CAIRO – Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi clashed with rival protesters on Friday on a central Cairo bridge near Tahrir Square, continuing a bloody day of protests that left more than a dozen people dead amid uncertainty about the country’s political future.
A total of 17 people were reported dead in clashes across the country, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Health. Hundreds more were injured.
Thousands of pro-Morsi demonstrators marched on the October 6 Bridge over the Nile after a speech from Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie in which he demanded Morsi’s reinstatement.
After his arrest was ordered earlier this week, Badie appeared on stage at an Islamist rally in Cairo on Friday, saying that the group would not concede on Morsi’s reinstatement, “otherwise it is our lives,” Reuters reported.
No army vehicles appeared to block the path of the marchers as they headed in the direction of the square where jubilant anti-Morsi demonstrators celebrated his ouster earlier this week. A military helicopter flew overhead as the Morsi supporters crossed the bridge on Friday before a large group congregated outside a state TV building.
The marchers engaged in clashes with anti-Morsi demonstrators in the area around the October 6 Bridge, with the fighting sometimes coming to hand-to-hand clashes, as gunshots were heard and rocks and fireworks were thrown. The fighting continued for more than an hour as ambulances were blocked from assisting the injured, with no substantial military or police presence seen until a series of military personnel carriers moved across the bridge as the fighting slowed.
Three people were killed and 199 people injured in fighting on the bridge, according to the health ministry.
At least 15 people were injured during earlier clashes on Friday between the country’s military forces and supporters of Morsi outside the barracks where the man who was until recently president is believed to be detained.
Some of the wounded being treated near the scene appeared to have been hit by shotgun fire. NBC News journalists saw people with injuries to their face and torso.
The U.S. State Department condemned the violence Friday.
"We condemn the violence that has taken place today in Egypt," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We call on all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters."
Psaki added: "The voices of all who are protesting peacefully must be heard - including those who welcomed the events of earlier this week and those who supported President Morsy. The Egyptian people must come together to resolve their differences peacefully, without recourse to violence or the use of force."
The violence broke out after about 6,000 people who had been protesting outside Cairo’s Rabia al Adawiya Mosque marched toward the Republican Guard headquarters, where Morsi is rumored to have been held since being deposed by the military on Wednesday.
Pro-Morsi protester Ahmed Awad, 47, a construction worker from Alexandria who has been in Cairo for a week, said that he and his fellow demonstrators outside the Republican Guard building were there “as martyrs.”
“Either Morsi comes back or they will take our bodies from here,” he said.
Another demonstrator Rajab Ahmed, 40, said “we want our president back” and called for General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s top general, to be executed for treason.
Ahmed Abdulaziz, a surgeon and Muslim Brotherhood member, said the military had used “live ammunition” as he treated some of the wounded.
Before Friday prayers at the Rabia al Adawiya Mosque, Imama Salah Sultan told worshippers that “social peace is necessary.”
But he then added, “if peaceful means do not work, if we are called to war, we will not hesitate … we will not be driven like sheep.”
Television footage from the scene showed several bloodied people near the scene and clouds of tear gas. Large numbers of people continued to protest as soldiers stood behind barbed-wire barricades.
However, a ministry of defense spokesman insisted there had been no casualties outside the Republican Guard headquarters and that the military had not used live ammunition. This was also reported by two state-run television channels, Nile TV and ETV 1.
BBC News correspondent Jeremy Bowen said on Twitter that he could see a "bloodied dead body." NBC News could not immediately confirm any fatalities.
Bowen later tweeted that he had been hit by shotgun fire. "Thanks for the messages. I've been hit by a couple of shotgun pellets. Am fine and heading out," he said.
A statement on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website said earlier that peaceful protest was “a right guaranteed to all Egyptians,” saying it would hold the government responsible for its supporters’ security.
The Islamists' protests were given various names, including the “Friday of Rage” and the “Friday of Rejection.”
A liberal coalition also called for its supporters to take to the streets, saying that the Islamists' demonstrations could be a "counter-revolution," Reuters reported.
The Egyptian Army was put on a heightened state of alert in the Sinai region that borders Israel Friday. The border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt at Rafah was also closed.
A senior U.S. defense official told NBC News that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey spoke with the chief of staff of Egypt’s military forces on Thursday. The official could not offer any details about the conversation between Dempsey and Lieutenant General Sedki Sobhi.
Sinai is a hotbed of Islamist militant activity and there has been concern in Israel about the potential for increased cross-border attacks if the Egyptian military becomes pre-occupied with dealing with the demonstrations.
At a rally in Northern Sinai after the ouster of Morsi, hundreds of people cheered as a local leader spoke of declaring a “war council” to fight the Egyptian military, the police and the state. However, a spokesman for a loose coalition of tribes rejected that saying they were with the military and would not support any violence against the state.
There were reports that a state of emergency had been imposed in the Sinai area, but this was later denied by the military.
Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between rival factions, police and soldiers since last weekend, with millions of people taking part in anti-Morsi protests.
Morsi was ousted as president by the military on Wednesday and replaced by top judge Adly Mansour on Thursday. Fresh elections have been promised.
The statement on the Brotherhood’s website appealed to “the masses of the Egyptian people to mobilize in peaceful mass marches in all liberty squares and streets of Egypt, to be started from all mosques, after Friday prayers, to reject the heinous coup against popular will.”
It was attributed to the “National Alliance in Support of Electoral Legitimacy.”
“NASEL said that it feels rising public anger and the imminent danger threatening the nation as a result of the unprecedented military coup d’état against legitimacy derived from the will of the people,” it said.
Morsi is under house arrest and the statement said NASEL would hold the “coup masterminds” responsible for his safety and “for preventing the elected president from contact with the people.”
The Brotherhood denounced the crackdown, including the shutdown Wednesday night of its television channel, Misr25, its newspaper and three pro-Morsi Islamist TV stations. The military, it said, is returning Egypt to the practices of "the dark, repressive, dictatorial and corrupt ages."
On Thursday, a judge said that an investigation was being held into accusations that Morsi and eight other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures had defamed the judiciary. The arrests of Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide, and a top deputy, Khairat el-Shater, were also ordered.
Authorities have issued a wanted list for more than 200 Brotherhood members and leaders of other Islamist groups. The nation’s public prosecutor ordered the release of the head of the Brotherhood’s political wing, Saad El-Katatni, and deputy leader Rashad al-Bayoumi on Friday, Reuters reported, citing state media.
Both were arrested on Thursday and remain under investigation, the news service reported.
Military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said in a Facebook posting that that the army and security forces will not take "any exceptional or arbitrary measures" against any political group, The Associated Press reported.
The military has a "strong will to ensure national reconciliation, constructive justice and tolerance," he wrote.
The National Salvation Front, the top opposition political group during Morsi's presidency, called for all sides – “particularly political Islamic groups” -- to be included in the new political process, the AP reported.
"Reconciliation is the name of the game, including the Muslim Brotherhood. We need to be inclusive," Munir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, a leading member of the group, told the news service. "The detentions are a mistake."
NBC News' Ian Johnston and Matthew DeLuca, Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.