(Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday condemned a bloody government crackdown on protesters in Egypt that killed at least 149 people and Turkey urged the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to act quickly to stop a “massacre”.
Iran warned of the risk of civil war after Egyptian security forces moved in on protesters seeking the reinstatement of toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
European leaders criticized the assault on a camp of pro-Mursi protesters in Cairo, calling for restraint and a return to meaningful dialogue to defuse Egypt’s political stand-off.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest urged Egypt’s military-backed authorities to respect the basic human rights of the Egyptian people and said the United States strongly opposed Cairo’s declaration of a one-month state of emergency.
“The world is watching what is happening in Cairo. We urge the government of Egypt - and all parties in Egypt - to refrain from violence and resolve their differences peacefully,” Earnest told reporters at a briefing.
But he gave no sign that Washington was now prepared to immediately cut off its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, an important regional ally. Earnest did say, however, that U.S. assistance was under review, as it has been for weeks.
“We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we have urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s administration has found little leverage to influence events in Egypt. The United States initially said it would review whether the Egyptian military’s removal of the elected Mursi was a coup, a designation that would force Washington to cut off its assistance.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said international silence had paved the way for the Egyptian security clampdown, which triggered violence in many areas beyond the capital.
“It is clear that the international community, by supporting the military coup and remaining silent over previous massacres instead of protecting democracy and constitutional legitimacy in Egypt, has encouraged the current administration to carry out today’s intervention,” Erdogan said in a statement.
“The international community, especially the U.N. Security Council and Arab League, must act immediately to stop this massacre,” said Erdogan, whose government is Islamist-rooted.
His office said he had spoken to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and separately to all permanent members of the Security Council this week about the crisis.
Some 300 protesters gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara, then went to the gates of the U.S. embassy, where they chanted anti-U.S. slogans and held up pictures of Mursi.
Turkey has become one of the sharpest international critics of what it has termed an “unacceptable coup” in Egypt, which followed weeks of widespread protests against Mursi’s rule.
Iran, whose hardline Islamist leadership put down post-election unrest by force four years ago, denounced the Egyptian bloodshed and called for a “national dialogue and democratic process”.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed deep concern and added: “Undoubtedly the current approach ... strengthens the likelihood of civil war in this great Islamic country.”
Qatar took the lead in Arab criticism of the violence, condemning the attack on the protest camp and urging Egyptians to return to dialogue to ease the crisis polarizing the Arab world’s most populous nation.
A Qatari Foreign Ministry official, quoted by the state news agency QNA, said Egyptian authorities should “refrain from the security option in dealing with peaceful protests, and preserve the lives of Egyptians at protest sites”.
Qatar strongly endorsed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood government before he was ousted by the army a year after becoming the first freely elected leader in Egyptian history.
“Qatar believes that the safest and guaranteed way to resolve the crisis is a peaceful way based on dialogue between parties that have to live together in a pluralist social and political system,” the official said.
Energy-rich Qatar, among the world’s wealthiest states and under authoritarian dynastic rule, gave Egypt $7 billion in aid after his election last year following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In the Palestinian Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the ruling Islamist Hamas movement, which arose out of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, said Hamas “condemns the massacres ... and calls for an end to bloodshed and a halt to the killing of peaceful protesters”.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was monitoring the situation with great disquiet.
“Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues. I deplore the loss of lives, injuries and destruction in Cairo and other places in Egypt. I call on the security forces to exercise utmost restraint and on all Egyptian citizens to avoid further provocations and escalation,” she said in a statement.
Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Norway all appealed for mutual restraint by Egypt’s factions and for negotiations to resolve the crisis. Britain said it had advised its citizens visiting Egypt to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
“France calls on all sides to ... hold back from disproportionate use of force,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry echoed the European Union states, saying forbearance by all sides in Egypt was of “the highest national interest”. It said it was suspending the work of its Cairo consular section as a precaution for two days.
Reporting by Ankara, Dubai, London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Oslo, Moscow and Washington bureaux; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Kevin Liffey