Egypt's military prosecutor has said that his office will take over the investigation into deadly clashes between the army and Coptic Christian protesters, as the military rulers seek to fend off growing criticism over the worst bloodshed since the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak.
The decision effectively barred the civilian prosecutor from continuing his own inquiry and drew criticism from activists and rights groups who have grown deeply suspicious of the ruling generals' commitment to the reform path in Egypt's post-Mubarak transition to democracy.
The clashes on Sunday night and Monday morning began with a peaceful demonstration in central Cairo by minority Christians angry over a recent attack on a church in southern Egypt.
Witnesses said the protesters were attacked by crowds hurling stones and clashed with military units guarding the nearby state television building along the Nile.
Many of the 26 people killed - at least 21 of whom were Christians - were crushed by armoured military vehicles which sped through crowds of protesters. Other victims had gunshot wounds.
In a news conference, generals from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces blamed Christian protesters for the violence and denied firing on them, claiming the soldiers' weapons did not even have live ammunition.
The military's decision to take full control of the investigation was more evidence, activists said, that the generals are seeking to push their version of events and prevent a further deterioration in their public standing since assuming control of the country after Mr Mubarak was ousted in February.
The clashes marked the bloodiest confrontation between the military and citizens since the uprising.
Military officials said the army wants to conduct the investigation on its own and in private due to the sensitivity of the clashes, to preserve troop morale and because soldiers were killed. State media reported that three soldiers were killed in the clashes, though the military is refusing to give a precise number.
Activists criticised the military's takeover of the probe and said it would not be impartial.