The killings in the early hours on Saturday of supporters of the deposed Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsy, by the central security forces — notorious for using excessive force during the Mubarak-era — has alarmed the country’s secularist youth, who fear the return of the old guard.

The secularist Tamarod movement — the core supporters of the military coup that removed Mr. Morsy from power on July 3 — have sounded the alarm, apprehending the return of personnel and the discredited policing culture prevalent during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak.

For several hours till the break of dawn on Saturday, the police and armed men in plainclothes unleashed heavy violence to disperse pro-Morsy crowds that were apparently trying to block the Sixth of October bridge, Cairo’s lifeline.

By morning, 72 people were dead, according to the Health Ministry’s body count.

The Muslim Brotherhood,— Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation — however, said the story of the overnight carnage was even grimmer, claiming that the bloodbath near the bridge, not far from the pro-Morsy sit in at Nasr city, had taken 120 lives.

The short stretch of Nasr Street — famous for the spot where former President Anwar Sadat was slain during a military parade more than three decades ago — had become a virtual killing field on Saturday morning.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch reported, based on field visits by researchers and analysis of video footage, that the protesters were shot and killed over a period of at least six hours, during clashes with the security forces on a major Cairo road.

It quoted doctors and medical staff present at field hospitals where the wounded and the dead were being brought that the “majority of the bullet injuries were to the head, neck, and chest”, suggesting targeted shootings.

“They had orders to shoot to kill,” said Gehad El-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman.

Stunned by the casualties and the excessive use of force, Tamarod spokesman Mahmoud Badr warned in a statement that the movement does not support adoption of “extraordinary measures, or the contradiction of freedoms and human rights”.

The group has been dismayed by Saturday’s assertion during a press conference by the Interior Minister, Mohamed Ibrahim that departments of state security, used for combating extremism and monitoring political and religious activity, which had been disbanded after Mr. Mubarak’s exit had now been reinstated.

Rejecting the Minister’s stance, Mr. Badr stressed that such comments “are unacceptable” as they violate the principles of the January 25 Revolution, which had brought down Mr. Mubarak. “We will never accept the return of Mubarak’s state security [apparatus] or the chasing of political activists under any name.”

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