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US calls on all of Egypt's leaders

The United States urged Egypt to pull "back from the brink" after security forces killed dozens of supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and opened a dangerous new phase in the army's confrontation with his Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands of Brotherhood activists were hunkered down in a vigil at a Cairo mosque on Sunday, promising to stand their ground despite Saturday's bloodshed when at least 65 pro-Mursi supporters were shot dead. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the killings suggested a "shocking willingness" by police and some politicians to ratchet up violence against their foes. Backers and opponents of the ousted president clashed before dawn on Sunday in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, firing birdshot at each other before soldiers intervened, security sources said. Fifteen people were hurt in the violence. The trouble started late on Saturday night, when gunmen fired on a church in Port Said during funeral prayers for one of the victims of the Cairo killings, the sources said.

Saturday's carnage, following huge rival rallies, plunged the Arab world's most populous country deeper into turmoil following more than two turbulent years of transition to democracy after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Egypt's Health Ministry said 65 people had died in the shootings, with the Brotherhood reporting that a further 61 were on life support after what it described as a ferocious assault by men in helmets and black fatigues.

The ambulance service put the death toll at 72.

Washington, treading a fine line with an important Middle East ally and recipient of more than $1 billion in annual military aid, urged the Egyptian security forces to respect the right to peaceful protest.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone with Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the July 3 military overthrow of Mursi and whose face has since appeared on posters across the capital Cairo.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to two senior members of Egypt's army-installed interim cabinet, expressing his deep concern.

"This is a pivotal moment for Egypt," he said in a statement. "The United States...calls on all of Egypt's leaders across the political spectrum to act immediately to help their country take a step back from the brink."

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