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Egypt faces deepening chaos

Muslim Brotherhood supporters fight security forces in a mosque while Egypt faces more chaos.

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi searches through the debris while a fellow demonstrator throws an object during clashes with police in Cairo on August 14, 2013. Picture: AFP.

CAIRO - Supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi fought a gun battle with security forces in a Cairo mosque on Saturday, while Egypt's army-backed government, facing deepening chaos, considered banning his Muslim Brotherhood group.

Three Reuters witnesses saw gunmen shoot from a window of the al-Fath mosque, where Brotherhood followers sheltered during ferocious confrontations in the heart of Cairo on Friday.

Another gunman was shown on television shooting from the mosque's minaret and soldiers outside returning fire. It was not clear if anyone died in the latest clash - the fourth day of violence in Egypt, which has killed almost 800 people.

With anger rising on all sides, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi proposed disbanding the Brotherhood, raising the stakes in a bloody struggle between the state and Islamists for control of the Arab world's most populous nation.

"We are not facing political divisions, we are facing a war being waged by extremists developing daily into terrorism," presidential political adviser Mostafa Hegazy told reporters.

If Beblawi's proposal to disband the Brotherhood is acted on, it would force the group underground and could herald large-scale arrests against its members placed outside the law.

Many Western allies have denounced the killings, including the United States, alarmed by the chaos in a country which has a strategic peace treaty with Israel and operates the Suez Canal, a major artery of world trade.

However, Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind the army-backed government on Friday, accusing its old foes in the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to destabilise Egypt.

The health ministry said 173 people died in clashes across Egypt on Friday, including 95 in central Cairo, after the Brotherhood called a "Day of Rage" to denounce a crackdown on its followers on Wednesday that killed at least 578 people.

Fifty-seven policemen died over the past three days, the interior ministry said.

Among those killed on Friday was a son of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, shot dead close to al-Fath mosque, which was rapidly transformed into a makeshift morgue and a refuge for hundreds of Morsi's supporters, looking to escape the bloodshed.

The building was surrounded overnight and police fired volleys of tear gas into the carpeted prayer hall in the early afternoon, filling the hall with billowing white smoke and leaving those inside gasping for breath.

Soon afterwards gunshots rang out from both sides.

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