The Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said he will no longer restrain his forces from confronting "attackers who want to destroy Egypt", in his first public comments since a security crackdown on anti-coup protesters that left an estimated 600 people dead.

"Our self-restraint will not continue. We will not accept any more attacks. We will meet with full force. Attackers want to destroy Egypt," he said in a speech televised on Egyptian television on Sunday.

He vowed to stand firm in the face of violence. "Whoever imagines violence will make the state and Egyptians kneel must reconsider; we will never be silent in the face of the destruction of the country," he said.

Sisi removed president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July in a coup, saying he could not ignore the widespread protests against Morsi's rule.

'We are guardians'

Egypt has since spiralled into violence, with hundreds of Morsi's supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood and other anti-coup groups being killed by government forces during protests. On August 14, an estimated 600 were killed when riot police moved in on two huge sit-in protest camps in Cairo.

In more conciliatory language, Sisi said there was "room for everyone" in Egypt and that his forces would not  "conspire" to take power.

"The will of the Egyptian people is free, their will is free, they can choose whoever they want to rule them, and we are the guardians of this will," he said as members of the audience - mostly military and police officers - applauded his comments.

"The army and the police right now are the guardians of the will of the people with regard to choosing who their leaders will be.

"I said previously that Egyptians if they want to change the world, they are capable of that, and I tell the Egyptian people now that if you want to build Egypt and its future, you will and you can, and you can make it 'Egypt the mother of all nations' Egypt will be as big as the world itself, with God's will."

Source: Agencies