UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency briefing on the latest developments in Egypt following the government’s deadly crackdown on supporters of ousted President Muhammad Mursi.
Britain, France and Australia requested the council meeting and the UN spokesman’s office said Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson will brief the council behind closed doors at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) on Thursday.
UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said they do not expect the council to issue a statement or adopt a resolution on Thursday.
The Egyptian Health Ministry has raised the death toll from the day’s violence that followed a crackdown on two camps housing supporters of the ousted president to 638.
Ministry spokesman Mohammed Fathallah told The Associated Press on Thursday that the number of injured in the previous day’s violence also has risen to 3,994.
Wednesday’s violence began when police moved to clear two protest camps housing mainly Islamist protesters calling for Muhammad Mursi’s reinstatement. The crackdown prompted clashes elsewhere in Cairo and other cities.
Fathallah said 288 of the dead were killed in the larger of the two camps, in Cairo’s eastern Nasr City district.
Police authorized to use deadly force
Amid mixed world reaction over the carnage, Egyptian authorities on Thursday authorized police to use deadly force to protect themselves and key state institutions from attacks, after presumed supporters of the deposed Islamist president torched two local government buildings near the capital in the latest of a series of apparent reprisals to follow a bloody crackdown on their protest camps.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of national security, said in a statement that the new measures come after an angry crowd stormed the buildings in Giza, the city next to Cairo that is home to the Pyramids.
“The ministry has given instruction to all forces to use live ammunition to confront any assaults on institutions or the forces,” the statement read.
Attackers set fire to churches and police stations across the country on Wednesday after security forces assaulted two Cairo sit-ins where thousands of supporters of ousted President Muhammad Mursi were camped out. Officials say the death toll is now 578, mostly Mursi supporters, and 4,200 injured.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s military-backed government pledged in a statement to confront “terrorist actions and sabotage” allegedly carried out by members of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.
“The Cabinet expressed its determination to confront the terrorist actions and sabotage by elements of the Muslim Brotherhood organization,” it said. “These actions are carried out as part of criminal plan that clearly aims at toppling down the state.”
On Wednesday, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.
Associated Press reporters witnessed the burning buildings in Giza — a two-story colonial-style villa and a four-story administrative building. The offices are located on the Pyramids Road on the west bank of the River Nile.
State TV blamed Mursi supporters for the fire and broadcast footage showing both structures burning as firemen evacuated employees from the larger building.
Attack on Coptic Christians continue
The Brotherhood website Ikhwanweb said thousands marched through Giza but were attacked by pro-military “militias.” It did not say how the government buildings were set on fire.
In the coastal city of Alexandria, witnesses and a security official said, Mursi supporters stabbed a taxi driver to death for hanging a picture of Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, the leader of the July 3 coup.
“The driver was caught in middle of a protest by the Muslim Brotherhood chanting against the military. He argued with them to watch out, they pulled him out (of his car) and stabbed him,” said Mohammed el-Mashali, a reporter for the Al-Fagr weekly who said he witnessed the killing.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Tamarod, the youth movement that organized mass rallies calling for Mursi’s ouster, said citizens should set up neighborhood watch groups to protect government and private property.
Meanwhile, successive attacks on Coptic Christian churches continued for a second day, according to Egypt’s official news agency and human rights advocates.
Egypt’s MENA agency said Mursi supporters set fire to the Prince Tadros church in the province of Fayoum, nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Cairo.
Ishaq Ibrahim from The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights says his group has documented as many as 39 incidents of violence against churches, monasteries, Coptic schools and shops in different parts of the country on Wednesday.