Egypt's interior minister has said that the Muslim Brotherhood is "purposefully causing a crisis,” denying that the police opened fire on pro-Brotherhood protesters in overnight clashes that left scores dead.
Interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim said in a press conference on Saturday afternoon that the police "have never fired at a protester using live ammunition."
Interior ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif said in a televised statement earlier on Saturday that supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi moved in a march from their sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo's Nasr City district to the nearby 6 October Bridge.
"They halted traffic, set tires on fire and clashed with residents of the nearby [working class] Mansheyet Nasr district using live fire and birdshots, and this killed 21 people," Abdel-Latif said. "The police moved to stop the clashes between the two groups and opened the road again."
"The ministry asserts that its forces have not used anything more that teargas," he said.
Officials at the health ministry said on Saturday morning that there were 21 deaths recorded at public hospitals as a result of the violence, while the Brotherhood reported that 120 people had been killed.
The health ministry on Saturday afternoon raised the total death toll to 38.
Abdel-Latif said that 14 officers and 37 police personnel have been injured, most as a result of gunshots.
However, Brotherhood figures have rejected this account, saying that at least 120 were killed and more than 4,500 injured when the police opened fire at the protesters.
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a pro-Morsi coalition of mainly Islamist parties led by the Brotherhood, issued a statement earlier on Saturday describing what happened as a "massacre."
In its account, it said that as the number of protesters at Rabaa Al-Adawiya increased, many moved through nearby roads. The statement claimed that police fired teargas at protesters and then started firing birdshot and live rounds.
The alliance condemned the violence and vowed that it will continue its sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya.
Interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim condemned what he described as the Brotherhood "fabricating a crisis" to win "political gains.”
He also reiterated a statement he released on Friday saying that the pro-Morsi sit-ins will be "legally" dispersed soon after residents of Giza and Nasr City – where the sit-ins are located – made official complaints against them.
He added that discussions are taking place between the police and the armed forces for a strategy to disperse them with the least losses, calling on protesters to leave themselves before the security forces take action.
He stated that the police need a legal justification to disperse the sit-in, which could mean a court order mandating that the sit-in be dispersed.
In addition, Ibrahim criticised the Brotherhood's sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda Square in Giza citing reports of people killed inside the sit-ins as a result of torture.
"If they think someone is an opponent or is related to security forces, they torture them to death," he said. "Six people were found dead in Al-Nahda and three others are in critical condition in hospital, while three were killed in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and seven are still in hospital."
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, instigated massive demonstrations on Friday to counterbalance nationwide protests called for by army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who said he wanted to be granted popular "mandate to deal with violence and potential terrorism."
Responding to his call, millions hit the streets across the country on Friday to voice support for El-Sisi and Egypt's army, and also to chant against Morsi and the Brotherhood.
After one year in office, Morsi was ousted on 3 July as part of the Egyptian armed forces' roadmap, which was enforced shortly after nationwide mass protests against the former elected president. He has been held incommunicado ever since.
Many of Morsi's supporters and opponents have frequently faced off since his overthrow, leading to at least 100 dead and hundreds injured in the past few weeks. Both camps used against each other firearms, among other weapons, on many occasions.