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Egypt: Morsi backers defy police with fresh rallies

Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi have expanded their vigils in Cairo, starting a third near the capital's international airport. That's in defiance of threats from authorities to break-up their sit-ins.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2013 22:02 IST

Islamist backers of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi staged defiant rallies on Friday, as police prepared to disperse their Cairo protest camps amid international appeals to avoid further bloodshed.

The new demonstrations came after US secretary of state John Kerry said Egypt's military had been "restoring democracy" when it deposed Morsi, in comments that prompted fury from the ousted leader's supporters.

The international community meanwhile, pressed both sides to peacefully resolve the impasse, with US under secretary of state William Burns expected to arrive in Cairo on Friday night for more talks.

Morsi supporters began their marches after Friday prayers, pouring out of several Cairo mosques and heading towards their key Rabaa al-Adawiya site.

They held small demonstrations at several locations, including in front of Cairo's Media Production City, where security forces fired tear gas after protesters "tried to storm" the building, a security source told AFP.

Earlier marches had passed off peacefully, with thousands waving Egyptian flags and posters of the deposed leader.

"Our million-man march today is a counter move against the military intimidation to break up the sit-in," said Ahmed Idriss, 27, a lawyer from Egypt's Nile Delta region.

The marches came a day after Kerry in an interview with Pakistan's Geo television appeared to defend Morsi's ouster.

"The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence," he said.

"And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgement -- so far. To run the country, there's a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy," he added.

A spokesman for Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood denounced Kerry's comments, accusing Washington of being "complicit" in the coup.

"Is it the job of the army to restore democracy?" asked Gehad al-Haddad in a statement.

Morsi's supporters have remained defiant in the face of mounting threats from the army-installed interim government.

On Thursday, the interior ministry urged those at protest sites in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares "to let reason and the national interest prevail, and to quickly leave".

The ministry pledged "a safe exit and full protection to whomever responds to this appeal".

The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, quoting police sources, reported Friday that police have prepared a plan to end the sit-ins, but had not decided when to implement it, with the cabinet still hoping for a peaceful resolution.

The stand-off has raised fears of new violence. More than 250 people have been killed since Morsi's ouster.

Diplomatic efforts to avoid further bloodshed have gathered pace, with a senior Egyptian official telling AFP that Burns would arrive on Friday night.

"Burns is arriving tonight. He will meet with foreign minister Nabil Fahmy tomorrow," the source said.

His visit comes on the heels of trips by the European Union's Middle East envoy Bernardino Leon and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

A senior member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, said the European envoys had asked them to end their sit-ins.

Speaking after meeting Brotherhood representatives, Westerwelle warned that the situation was "very explosive".

"We have seriously and adamantly pressured for a peaceful solution. I hope that those concerned have gotten the message," he said.

The United States had also warned against further violence, with Kerry saying in his interview that loss of life was "absolutely unacceptable".

Further raising tensions, three top Brotherhood leaders, including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, are to be referred to trial for incitement to murder.

Egypt's interim government also faces an increase in militant attacks in the restive Sinai Peninsula, where gunmen on Thursday shot dead a policeman in the northern town of El-Arish.

Morsi himself has been formally remanded in custody on suspicion of offences when he broke out of prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

He was detained hours after the coup and is being held at an undisclosed location, where his family has been unable to see him.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Morsi on Tuesday, later telling reporters he was "well".

Qatar, a staunch backer of Morsi's presidency, announced meanwhile that it had shipped a consignment of liquified natural gas to Egypt, in the first gesture of its kind since Morsi was deposed.