UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned violence used by Egyptian security forces on Wednesday to clear Cairo of protesters demanding the reinstatement of deposed President Mohamed Mursi.
While the United Nations was still gathering information, "it appears that hundreds of people were killed or wounded in clashes between security forces and demonstrators," Ban's spokesperson said in a statement.
Troops opened fire on demonstrators in clashes that brought chaos to areas of Cairo and appeared sure to further polarize Egypt's 84 million people between backers of Mursi and those who opposed his brief rule.
"The Secretary-General regrets that Egyptian authorities chose instead to use force to respond to the ongoing demonstrations," Ban's spokesperson said.
"While recognizing that political clocks do not run backwards, the Secretary-General also believes firmly that violence and incitement from any side are not the answers to the challenges Egypt faces," the statement said.
Mursi became Egypt's first freely elected leader in June 2012, but failed to tackle deep economic malaise and worried many Egyptians with apparent efforts to tighten Islamist rule.
Liberals and young Egyptians staged huge rallies demanding that he resign, and the army said it removed him last month in response to the will of the people.
More than 300 people have already died in political violence since Mursi's overthrow, including dozens of supporters killed by security forces in two separate earlier incidents in Cairo.
The unrest has extended political and economic turmoil since a 2011 uprising that ended 30 years of autocratic rule by U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak, and the country is now more deeply divided than any time for many years.
"With Egypt's rich history and diversity of views and experiences, it is not unusual for Egyptians to disagree on the best approach forward," Ban's spokesperson said, adding that Ban felt what was important was "that differing views be expressed respectfully and peacefully."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen)