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Egyptian forces clear Cairo mosque of protesters amid violent demonstrations

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Egyptian security forces cleared a Cairo mosque on Saturday that had become a bloody stage for clashes between protesters and the military amid two days of violence that left 173 dead.

Security officials Saturday stormed the al-Fath mosque in Ramses Square, where protesters had taken refuge and organized a makeshift field hospital for injured demonstrators. At one point on Saturday afternoon, police exchanged gunfire with someone inside the mosque’s minaret.

The siege on the mosque started overnight Friday, as demonstrators aligned with deposed President Mohammed Morsi and armed men ducked into al-Fath to evade vigilantes and arrest, according to The Associated Press. They stacked furniture near the front of the mosque to keep out security forces and anti-Morsi protesters, a barricade that held overnight.

But on Saturday, military forces and armored personnel carriers encircled the mosque before gunmen positioned on the minaret unleashed bullets on the security officials below, triggering a flurry of chaos that climaxed with the ouster of pro-Morsi protesters from the complex, according to the AP.

The raid was prompted by fears that the Brotherhood planned to stage a sit-in similar to those broken up Wednesday in attacks that left hundreds dead, security officials told The Associated Press.

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The mosque in the cultural epicenter of Ramses Square had earlier doubled as a field hospital and open-air morgue as a Brotherhood-spurred day of protests spiraled into chaotic violence.

The confrontation between protesters and the military follows the death Friday of the son of the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, who was shot dead during protests against the army-backed interim government near the mosque, according to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

Ammar Badie, 38, is survived by his wife and two children. It is not known where his father is, according to Reuters. Mohammed Badie has been charged with inciting violence and faces a trial slated to begin Aug. 25.

A total of 800 people have died over four bloody days in the deeply divided Middle Eastern nation, Reuters reported.

The interim government meanwhile Saturday announced that it is mulling whether to ban the Brotherhood, a long-outlawed political organization that rose to power in the country’s first democratic elections a year ago, the AP reported.

Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has proposed the legal dissolution of the Brotherhood — a dramatic move that would force it underground and could lead to a broad crackdown.

“It is being studied currently,” said government spokesman Sherif Shawky, according to the AP.

A ban would reprise the historic and tumultuous conflict between the state and the Brotherhood. It may also stir up unrest after the July 3 military coup against the Brotherhood-aligned Morsi, according to the AP.

Shawky said on state television Saturday that some 173 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded in violence across Egypt since Friday’s protests began.

He added that 57 police officers had been killed and 503 had been injured since Wednesday, when security forces moved to clear the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo.

More than 1,000 supporters of the Brotherhood were arrested during Friday’s protest, the country’s Interior Ministry said in a statement Saturday.

Egyptian state TV reported on Saturday that the son of Hassan Malek, another Brotherhood leader, was among those arrested, Reuters said.

Police also detained Brotherhood politician Gamal Heshmat, according to a statement from the Anti-Coup Alliance. He is a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party.

An interim government has been set up since Morsi’s ouster and has promised to restore democracy to the country. However some believe it has essentially returned to military rule.

statement on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website called for people to return to the streets every day for a week.

The statement, which said it was issued by the “Anti-Coup, Pro-Legitimacy National Alliance,” praised the “masses of patriotic Egyptians” who protested Friday across the country.

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It spoke of the protesters’ “heroic bravery under aerial bombardment from July 3 coup forces’ helicopters and war-planes using live bullets.”

“The Alliance calls on the great masses of the Egyptian people to protest peacefully throughout the next week,” the statement said.

“The Alliance reiterates its commitment to fully non-violent demonstrations and its rejection of all attacks on places of worship as well as public and private property,” it added.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the violence in Egypt on Saturday morning, according to a White House official.

There have been reports of attacks on churches and Egypt’s Interior Ministry said that Muslim Brotherhood supporters had tried to storm police stations in Cairo Friday, but had been repelled by the security forces.

Disturbing video footage emerged of a protester being shot by the security services.

In the film clip, which was confirmed by the Storyful news agency but not independently by NBC News, the man is seen walking toward armored vehicles.

The man, who does not appear to be armed, was at the head of a small group of protesters. Amid the sound of heavy gunfire, most of them start to back away, but he remains standing with his arms raised.

He is then clearly shot and falls to the ground. It was unclear how seriously he was injured.

On Friday, protesters expressed their determination to carry on demonstrating.

Mohammad Samir, an English teacher, said Morsi was “the legal president of Egypt.”

“Freedom is the only thing we want. [Military chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah] el-Sissi killed democracy in Egypt, so we are here to get our democracy again,” he said.

“We will not get back to our homes … again before getting our freedom.”

Samir, from Shariqa, named his three-month-old son Nidal, which means “resistance,” because of the protests.

Sara Ahmed, 28, a business manager, told Reuters on a march of thousands of headed downtown from northeast Cairo that it was "not about the Brotherhood, it's about human rights."

“Sooner or later I will die. Better to die for my rights than in my bed,” she said. “Guns don't scare us anymore.” 

NBC News’ Charlene Gubash, Kristen Welker and Ian Johnston, and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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