(Updates with prisoner deaths in second paragraph, Brotherhood statement in fifth.)
Aug. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s defense chief said the military won’t permit the destruction of the state as the death toll from violence in recent days climbed to almost 900.
The remarks by Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi came amid reports that at least 36 detainees were killed while en route to prison. Supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi again held protests yesterday on the heels of days of violence unleashed with the security forces’ breakup of pro-Mursi encampments on Aug. 14.
The latest deaths occurred yesterday as gunmen exchanged fire with guards of a convoy carrying more than 612 people detained in Cairo, the state-run Middle East News Agency said. The incident offered another example of the rising stakes in Egypt’s political fight since Mursi’s ouster on July 3 and the ensuing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
An earlier statement by the Interior Ministry, posted on its website, said detainees were Brotherhood members who were in custody and tried to escape while being transported to Abu Zaabal prison in Qalyubia province.
The conflicting accounts couldn’t be immediately reconciled. The Anti-Coup Alliance, which groups the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, said in an e-mailed statement that the deaths demonstrate the “rights violations and poor treatment to which detained opponents of the July 3rd coup are exposed.”
Egyptian shares fell the most in two months yesterday, while borrowing costs rose for the first time in seven weeks at an auction.
The benchmark EGX 30 Index slumped 3.9 percent, the most since June 12, to 5,334.55 at the close in Cairo. Egypt sold 5.5 billion pounds at an auction of treasury bills yesterday, with the yield on three-month notes rising 18 basis points from last week to 11.44 percent, according to central bank data on Bloomberg.
Al-Seesi, who has become an iconic figure to many Egyptians since announcing Mursi’s ouster, said the military was determined to push ahead with Egypt’s transition to democracy and ensuring that it was a nation where all had the chance to choose their leader.
“We will not remain silent before the destruction of the country and the people, and the torching of the nation,” al- Seesi said in an address yesterday on state television.
The days of bloodshed drew international condemnation, with the European Union saying yesterday it will “urgently review” relations with the Arab world’s most-populous nation. Senior diplomats from the 28-nation bloc will meet today to coordinate a response in a gathering that could lead to an EU foreign ministers meeting, according to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s office.
The U.S. has taken initial steps to withhold economic assistance without cutting off the much larger military aid provided, the New York Times reported, citing officials in President Barack Obama’s administration it didn’t identify. For the year, the administration proposed $250 million in economic assistance, compared with $1.3 billion for the military.
“All of our assistance to Egypt is currently under review, and we will consider additional steps as we deem necessary,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in an e-mail when asked about the report. “At this point, no additional decisions have been made regarding assistance.”
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have led a push for the U.S. to suspend all aid to Egypt to pressure authorities. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy condemned talk of cutting aid, saying Egypt won’t abandon its efforts to restore order.
“We keep hearing if Egypt doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, then aid will be stopped here or will be stopped there,” Fahmy said. “If one side is revising aid they are giving, we are revising aid we receive as well.”
In remarks aimed at bridging the violent rift over Mursi’s July 3 ouster, al-Seesi said “there is room for all,” including Islamists, in Egypt’s political landscape. There will be “no deviation” from the post-Mursi “road map,” he said.
“Do we choose a nation dismantled or a regime dismantled?” al-Seesi said. “I’m sure every patriot will choose a nation to survive and not a regime.”
Al-Seesi’s comments marked the latest effort by the country’s interim leadership to address the unrest that has gripped the nation since Mursi’s ouster upended a political process that saw the Muslim Brotherhood evolve from an opposition movement to the nation’s powerbroker.
Mursi, who was fielded for office last year by the Brotherhood, was pushed from power by the army chief amid a mounting outcry against what Egypt’s secularists saw as a power grab by Islamists.
“We’re not calling for killing of the people, we’re just protecting our country and people,” al-Seesi said.
--With assistance from Margaret Talev in Washington. Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Karl Maier