At least 40 people were killed today in clashes outside a military building in Cairo where supporters of the former president were holding a sit-in, an Egyptian health ministry official said.

Khaled el-Khatib said initial reports also indicated at least 322 were wounded, although he gave no details on the circumstances of the killings.

Military spokesmen said gunmen opened fire on troops at the building, killing at least five supporters of Mohammed Morsi and one officer when people tried to storm the building.

A spokesman from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and a witness at the scene however said military forces opened fire at dawn on the protesters outside the Republican Guard building. The different accounts could not be reconciled.

As Egypt’s political landscape plunged further into crisis, Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair today said it would be ‘devastating’ for the region if the country were to collapse.

 
Taking cover: Muslim Brotherhood members gather behind barricades during clashes with the military over the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi which has left dozens dead and a further 300 injured in Cairo

Taking cover: Muslim Brotherhood members gather behind barricades during clashes with the military over the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi which has left dozens dead and a further 300 injured in Cairo

 
Outraged: Morsi's supporters refuse to recognise the interim leader and insist the ex-president be reinstated

Outraged: Morsi’s supporters refuse to recognise the interim leader and insist the ex-president be reinstated

 
Out in force: Egyptian Republican guards take up positions in front of a barricade during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood near rabaa aldwya in Cairo

Out in force: Egyptian Republican guards take up positions in front of a barricade during clashes with members of the Muslim Brotherhood near rabaa aldwya in Cairo

After declaring the ousting of Mr Morsi last Wednesday, Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi replaced him with Egypt’s chief justice and suspended the constitution until new presidential elections.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mr Blair said: ‘There has to be a path as swiftly as possible back to democratic elections but until then we need to help the country function.’

The transition plan is backed by liberal and secular opponents of Mr Morsi, and had been also supported by the ultraconservative Islamist Al-Nour party and both Muslim and Christian religious leaders.

Soon after the attack report, however, Al-Nour party spokesman Nader Bakkar said on his Twitter account that his party is withdrawing its support for the transition plan in response to the ‘massacre’.

 
In the line of fire: An injured man is wheeled into a makeshift hospital where victims are being brought following clashes between Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters

In the line of fire: An injured man is wheeled into a makeshift hospital where victims are being brought following clashes between Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters

 
Injured: Supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi help a wounded protester outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo

Injured: Supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi help a wounded protester outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo

 
 
Brink of civil war: Egyptian army soldiers take their positions near armored vehicles at the entrance of Tahrir square in Cairo, where dozens of people were killed in clashes outside a military building in the capital

Brink of civil war: Egyptian army soldiers take their positions near armored vehicles at the entrance of Tahrir square in Cairo, where dozens of people were killed in clashes outside a military building in the capital

 
At the ready: Amid conflicting reports, the military said initial information indicates that gunmen affiliated with the Brotherhood tried to storm the Republican Guard building shortly after dawn

At the ready: Amid conflicting reports, the military said initial information indicates that gunmen affiliated with the Brotherhood tried to storm the Republican Guard building shortly after dawn.

Satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera showed footage from a nearby field hospital of at least six dead bodies laid out on the ground, some with severe wounds.

A medic from the area, Hesham Agami, said ambulances were unable to transport more than 200 wounded to hospitals because the military had blocked off the roads.

Al-Shaimaa Younes, who was at the sit-in, said military troops and police forces opened fire on the protesters during early morning prayers.

‘They opened fire with live ammunition and lobbed tear gas,’ she said by telephone. ‘There was panic and people started running. I saw people fall.’

Women and children had been among the protesters, she said.

 
Transition: Egypt's military chief has replaced Morsi with an interim leader until presidential elections are held

Transition: Egypt’s military chief has replaced Morsi with an interim leader until presidential elections are held

 
 
Unrest: An Egyptian woman walks past army forces on a bridge leading to Tahrir square in Cairo

Unrest: An Egyptian woman walks past army forces on a bridge leading to Tahrir square in Cairo

 

 
On alert: A tank of the Egyptian Army drives on a bridge leading to Tahrir square after clashes between the military and protesters outside the Republican Guard building

On alert: A tank of the Egyptian Army drives on a bridge leading to Tahrir square after clashes between the military and protesters outside the Republican Guard building

Military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali said initial information indicates that gunmen affiliated with the Brotherhood tried to storm the Republican Guard building shortly after dawn, firing live ammunition and throwing firebombs from a nearby mosque and rooftops.

One police officer on the scene was killed, he said.

Another military spokesman said five from the Brotherhood side were killed.

A statement by the armed forces published on the state news agency said ‘an armed terrorist group’ tried to storm the Republican Guard building, killing one officer and seriously injuring six.

The statement said the forces arrested 200 attackers, armed with guns and ammunition.

Morsi supporters have been holding rallies and a sit-in outside the Republican Guard building since the military deposed Morsi during massive protests against him.

The military chief replaced Morsi with an interim leader, until presidential elections are held.

But Morsi’s supporters refuse to recognise the interim leader and insist Morsi be reinstated.

 
Smoke alarm: Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood rallying in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi clash with police outside the Republican Guard HQ in Cairo

Smoke alarm: Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood rallying in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi clash with police outside the Republican Guard HQ in Cairo.

Besides the Republican Guard sit-in, they are also holding thousands-strong daily rallies at a nearby mosque.

Morsi’s opponents are also holding rival rallies. They say the former president lost his legitimacy by mismanaging the country and not ruling democratically, leading to a mass revolt that called on the army to push him from office.

Secular and liberal factions trying to install one of their own as Egypt’s new prime minister met strong resistance from the sole Islamist faction that backed the military’s ousting of President Mohammed Morsi.

As talks went on, giant rallies by the movements that pushed out Mr Morsi took on a sharply nationalist tone, pervaded with posters of the military’s chief and denunciations of the United States and President Barack Obama for they see as their backing of the Islamist leader.

The show of strength in the streets was aimed at fending off a determined campaign by Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which brought out its own supporters in large protests yesterday.

Warning that the military was turning Egypt into a ‘totalitarian state’, Brotherhood officials vowed to stay on the streets to reverse what they call a coup against democracy and restore Egypt’s first freely-elected president to office.

 
Explosive: Fireworks burst over opponents of Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi during a rally outside the presidential palace in Cairo, where dozens of people have been killed in clashes

Explosive: Fireworks burst over opponents of Egypt’s ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi during a rally outside the presidential palace in Cairo, where dozens of people have been killed in clashes

 

 
Flaring up: A spokesman from Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and a witness at the scene however said military forces opened fire at dawn on the protesters outside the Republican Guard building

Flaring up: A spokesman from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and a witness at the scene however said military forces opened fire at dawn on the protesters outside the Republican Guard building

 
Up in arms: Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood shout slogans as they rally in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi outside Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque late on Sunday

Up in arms: Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood shout slogans as they rally in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque late on Sunday

Military warplanes swooped over the anti-Morsi crowd filling Cairo’s Tahrir Square, drawing a heart shape and an Egyptian flag in the sky with coloured smoke. Large banners read ‘Obama, hands off, a message to the USA. Obama supports the terrorists of 911′ with a picture of Mr Obama with an Islamists’ beard.

Throughout Mr Morsi’s year in office, many of his opponents accused the United States of backing his administration. Washington often underlined that it was dealing with Mr Morsi as the country’s elected leader.

Before the wave of anti-Morsi protests began on June 30, U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said she was ‘deeply sceptical’ protests would be fruitful.

She defended US relations with Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as necessary because the group was part of the democratically-elected government.

Since Mr Morsi’s removal last Wednesday, Washington has tread carefully, expressing concern without calling the army’s move a coup or denouncing Mr Morsi’s demise.

On Saturday, the White House said it rejected ‘false claims propagated by some in Egypt that we are working with specific political parties or movements to dictate how Egypt’s transition should proceed’, saying it was committed to Egyptians’ aspirations for democracy.

The widespread appearance of anti-American slogans in Tahrir had a double-edged message: painting the Brotherhood as a tool of Washington and pushing back against US concerns over the military’s moves.

Obama ‘must know that this is a popular revolution’, said Shawki Ibrahim,37, with a portrait of army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi dangling from his neck.

‘The United States should support the people’s will and not the interest of a person or a group seeking only their own interest.’

The appointment of a prime minister is the key next step in building a post-Morsi leadership. The prime minister is to hold far greater powers in running the country than the interim president , Adly Mansour, a senior judge who was sworn into the post earlier.

The bloc of secular, leftist and liberal factions that led the giant wave of protests against Mr Morsi last week are now the main grouping in a loose collection of movements trying to fill out leadership posts.

Warning: Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair said it would be 'devastating' for the region if Egypt were to collapse

Warning: Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair said it would be ‘devastating’ for the region if Egypt were to collapse

They are pushing for one of their own as prime minister to have a strong voice in shaping the country.

But also among them is a main party of the ultra-conservative Islamist movement known as Salafis – al-Nour – which turned against Mr Morsi months ago and backed his removal.

On Saturday, al-Nour blocked the appointment of the most prominent liberal figure, Mohamed ElBaradei, as prime minister, who is deeply distrusted by the Islamist movement as too secular.

Yesterday, the secular-liberal bloc offered a compromise candidate, Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a prominent financial expert and an ally of Mr ElBaradei.

The interim president’s spokesman Ahmed al-Musalamani, told Egypt’s ONTV that Mr Bahaa-Eldin was the leading candidate, with Mr ElBaradei positioned to be named vice president.

But al-Nour again appeared prepared to block it.

‘Our position is that the prime minister should not belong to a specific faction … We want a technocrat,’ al-Nour Party chief Younes Makhyoun said.

He pointed to Mr Bahaa-Eldin’s membership in the National Salvation Front, the main umbrella group of liberal parties that was Mr Morsi’s main opposition.

Al-Nour faces considerable pressure from its followers not to be seen as backing down to secular movements. Brotherhood officials claim some al-Nour members have already joined its pro-Morsi protests.

When al-Nour broke with Mr Morsi months ago, it caused a split among its ranks, with some members forming a new party that remained with the president.

Al-Nour was clearly concerned about appearing to side with the military against fellow Islamists at a time when Mr Morsi and five other prominent Brotherhood figures have been put in detention and Islamist television stations have been put off the air.

 
Concerned: Mr Blair gave his reaction to the growing crisis in Egypt on BBC Radio 4's Today programme

Concerned: Mr Blair gave his reaction to the growing crisis in Egypt on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

Speaking on Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr TV, Mr Makhyoun warned that if the interim president threw out the Islamist-drafted constitution and appointed a panel to write a new one, the party would break with the military-backed ‘road map’ for a transition.

So far, the constitution has been only suspended and the talk has been of just amending disputed articles.

Yesterday, the Dawaa Salafia, a body of clerics allied to al-Nour, said the new leadership must be inclusive of Islamists and criticised the heavy hand against the Brotherhood.

‘No one should rejoice for undermining the freedom of others even if they are political rivals because repression is harmful for all,’ it said in a statement.

‘The police and the army should not discriminate between citizens based on their political colour.

‘Worse than this is to discriminate against anyone because of their Islamic disposition.’

 

Advertisements