Egyptian prosecutors have accused ousted President Mohammed Morsi of conspiracy and murder, raising tensions as both Islamists and supporters of newly installed military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi turn out for street protests.
The surprise announcement of the charges against Morsi, who was removed in a July 3 coup, stem from a 2011 prison break in which Morsi escaped and at least 14 guards were killed. Hamas gunmen are said to have led the attack at Wadi el-Natroun prison, an allegation the militant group has denied.
Judge Hassan Samir said Morsi conspired with Hamas to carry out "aggressive acts in the country." Morsi was among about 30 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who broke out of prison in the final days of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to step down in February 2011.
The charges against Morsi are seen by his supporters as politically motivated. NPR's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, tells Morning Edition there's been huge international pressure to release Morsi and that the charges announced Friday are "the first legal reason given" for his continued detention.
El-Sissi called on his supporters to turn out in street protests Friday in what he's described as a "war against terrorism" against Islamists.
The Associated Press reports:
"El-Sissi's portrait pervaded the crowds of tens of thousands in Cairo's central Tahrir Square: the smiling general in sunglasses on posters proclaiming 'the love of the people,' a combination photo of the general and a lion on lanyards hanging from people's necks, a picture of his face Photoshopped into a 1-pound note of currency. ...
"Morsi's Islamist backers, in turn, were packing their own rallies in Cairo and elsewhere Friday in what they called the day 'to bring down the coup,' referring to el-Sissi's July 3 deposing of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president."
Fadel says: "There's a real fear that this will go from rival protests today to a serious crackdown in the coming days from the security forces."