This article was updated at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday to add comments from Secretary of State John Kerry and to increase the death toll.
The White House on Wednesday criticized Egypt’s interim government for establishing military law in Cairo and cracking down on protesters sympathetic to ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, clashes that have killed at least 149 people and injured hundreds more.
“The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said from Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing. “We strongly oppose a return to state of emergency law.”
Egyptian security forces early Wednesday stormed two separate sit-ins of Morsi supporters, killing dozens of people and sparking unrest that led officials to establish military law. Egyptian officials are now arresting and detaining civilians indefinitely without charging them.
Interim Vice President Mohamed El Baradei resigned amid the escalating violence, citing his disapproval with how the interim government was operating.
Despite the mounting violence, Earnest said the Obama administration still believes it is in the United States’ interest not to decide whether the government takeover amounts to a coup. If the U.S. were to label the events a coup, officials would be forced to cut off aid to Egypt.
The White House spokesman said the recent violence instigated by the Egyptian military “runs directly counter to pledges” made by the interim government to cede power to civilians. Earnest said the Obama administration would hold the new Egyptian leaders “accountable” for their actions but did not clarify what that meant.
“I was not issuing an ultimatum,” Earnest explained, when pressed further on his statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the widespread violence dealt a "serious blow" to reconciliation efforts, urging the interim government there to end the state of emergency.
Administration officials have been careful not to wade too deeply into the chaotic situation in Egypt, cognizant of just how unpredictable events there have become — and the president chose to leave the White House’s response to his surrogates.
As Earnest outlined the administration’s first public reaction to Wednesday’s violence in Egypt, Obama was golfing. The president will return to Washington this weekend.