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Obama Condemns Egypt Violence, As Official Death Toll Rises To 525

  • RFE/RL

U.S. President Barack Obama says Washington is canceling planned joint military exercises with Cairo following violence in Egypt in which more than 500 people have died.

In a statement from his vacation retreat in Massachusetts, Obama said the United States strongly condemns the steps taken by Egypt’s government.

"While we do not believe that force is the way to resolve political differences, after the military's intervention several weeks ago there remained a chance for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path," Obama said. "Instead, we've seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. [Muhammad] Morsi's associations and supporters and now, tragically, violence that's taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more."

He called for the right to peaceful protests to be respected, for Egypt’s state of emergency to be lifted, and said Washington does not take sides with any party or political figure.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he called Egypt’s Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to make clear that the violence is putting the two countries' defense ties at risk.

The United States provides some $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Egypt, and many of its military leaders have received U.S. training.

Egypt's Health Ministry said that the death toll from the August 14 crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist President Muhammad Morsi has risen to 525, while more than 3,500 people were injured. The Interior Ministry said that 43 police officers were among those killed.

The Muslim Brotherhood says more than 2,000 were killed.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Ankara on August 15, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on Egypt.

"The UN Security Council must convene quickly. And everyone must say 'yes' for the necessary steps to be taken. If someone says 'no' for the necessary steps to be taken, they will have a historical responsibility," Erdogan said.

Turkey's Islamic-rooted government nurtured closer ties with Morsi, and Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of the ouster of Egypt's elected president by the military.

FROM CAIRO: VOA's Elizabeth Arrott Discusses Government Crackdown

In addition to the United States and Turkey, the crackdown in Egypt has been condemned by Iran and European Union. However, Erdogan criticized what he called the West's silence in the face of troubling developments in the Middle East.

"I am calling on Western countries. You remained silent in Palestine, Gaza; you remained silent in Syria. One-hundred thousand people lost their lives and you are still remaining silent. Four-hundred thousand people are seeking refuge in Turkey and you are still remaining silent. You are still silent on Egypt," he said. "So how come you talk about democracy, freedom, values, and human rights?"

WATCH: Egypt's interim president declares state of emergency

The military-installed government on August 14 moved against two Cairo camps of Islamist supporters of Morsi. The action against the protesters in Cairo sparked violence around Egypt.

The military-backed authorities have announced the start of a one-month nationwide state of emergency, including a nighttime curfew in Cairo and more than 10 other provinces, in the wake of the bloodshed.

Muhammad ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has resigned as vice president in the interim government in protest against the crackdown.

Security forces used tear gas, live ammunition, bulldozers, and armored vehicles to clear out the camps near the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque and at Nahda Square in Cairo.

The operation left the sites reminiscent of war zones, littered with debris, fires, and bleeding bodies.

Fighting was also reported in Alexandria, Minya, Assiut, Fayoum, Suez, and elsewhere.

PHOTO GALLERY: Violence flares in Cairo clashes.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters have vowed to continue their campaign for the reinstatement of Morsi, who was removed from office by the military on July 3.

But Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim said the authorities would no longer allow the formation of sit-in protest camps like the two that were smashed by security forces on August 14.

"I believe that after announcing the state of emergency, and after the president mandated the military to assist police forces, with complete coordination between us and the armed forces, we will not allow any other sit-in any place in the country, no matter the sacrifice," Ibrahim said.

The interior minister pledged to restore to Egypt the level of security that the country had during the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular revolt in February 2011.

Egypt was under emergency law for most of Mubarak's 29 years in power.

Morsi's overthrow came after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demonstrate against the president's links to Islamists and his government's failure to reverse Egypt's economic decline since the 2011 revolution.

The military says it removed the democratically elected president in response to public demand.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP