Egypt army postpones plan to clear pro-Morsi protest camps

Officials said they wanted to avoid "bloodshed" after two previous massacres

Published August 12, 2013 5:16PM (EDT)

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities on Monday postponed plans to disperse two Cairo sit-ins by supporters of the country’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi, saying they wanted to ‘‘avoid bloodshed,’’ security officials said.

Judicial officials meanwhile said that a judge ordered that the deposed president, detained since his July 3 ouster, should be held for 15 more days pending investigations into charges he conspired in 2011 with Palestinian militants.

The postponement announcement came as Morsi supporters held new rallies demanding his return to power, marching down a main boulevard at the heart of Cairo chanting anti-military slogans and waving the toppled president’s picture.

At least temporarily, the delay is likely to defuse tensions that had spiked overnight, with the country bracing for a new bout of violence if the police move against protesters.

Tens of thousands have occupied two encampments in Cairo’s streets since even before Morsi’s July 3 overthrow. At least 130 of his supporters have been killed in two major clashes on the edges of the larger encampment.

An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the decision to postpone a move against the protest camps by Muslim Brotherhood supporters came after a plan on ending the sit-ins was leaked to the media.

The security forces had planned to form cordons around the Cairo protest sites as early as dawn Monday, according to officials who spoke earlier to The Associated Press.

The government’s decision to clear the sit-ins came after failure of nearly two weeks of efforts by the international community to end the standoff and find a peaceful resolution. Egypt’s interim prime minister warned just ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday that ended Sunday that the government’s decision to clear the sit-ins was ‘‘irreversible.’’

Morsi was deposed after millions of Egyptians took to the streets on June 30, demanding he step down over what they saw as his failure to govern inclusively and failure to manage the economy. Many accused him of acting only on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. Huge protests continued for four days.

The Brotherhood has responded that the ouster of Morsi, the winner of Egypt’s first freely contested presidential elections, was a blow to legitimacy.

The two sides have not been able to reach a compromise.

On Monday, influential Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagi said he turned down an offer by the head of Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s top religious institution, to negotiate a solution.

El-Beltagi said that top Al-Azhar cleric Ahmed el-Tayyib was not an impartial mediator because he backed the coup.

Another Brotherhood figure, Saad Emara, dismissed all efforts to negotiate a solution, saying the Brotherhood doesn’t recognize the ‘‘initiatives from the post-coup era.’’

‘‘The key to a resolution is the return of legitimate institutions, including the president,’’ Emara said.

Morsi has not been seen since the military deposed him, disbanded the Islamist-dominated parliament and suspended the constitution. He is held incommunicado, along with some of his aides, while several top Brotherhood leaders and their Islamist allies are detained on charges of instigating deadly violence.

On Monday, a judge ordered Morsi to be detained for 15 more days, as investigations continue into charges that he conspired with Palestinian militants during the country’s 2011 uprising, according to a judicial official.

Judge Hassan Samir is investigating whether Morsi colluded with Hamas to break out of the Wadi al-Natroun prison west of Cairo along with 33 other members of his Muslim Brotherhood group. This is the second time his detention has been renewed. The first was on July 26.

Other Brotherhood figures, including the group’s top spiritual guide Mohammed Badie, are on the run or taking refuge amid tens of thousands of supporters at the larger of the two sit-ins in Cairo’s eastern Nasr City district, where a road intersection facing Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque has been turned to a heavily fortified tent city.

The sit-in, along with a second one in Cairo’s twin city of Giza, are used as sites for street rallies. The government says the protest camps are a ‘‘threat to national security.’’

The protests by the Brotherhood have prevented an air of normalcy from returning to Cairo’s streets after nearly a month of instability.

Rights groups have published testimony of cases in which anti-Morsi protesters and others are said to have been tortured by Morsi supporters, and authorities say bodies bearing what appear to be marks of torture have been found nearby. Residents in buildings surrounding the two protest camps have long complained of harassment, restrictions on their movement and fears of getting caught in a crossfire if clashes take place.

‘‘The country is at a standstill,’’ said Abdel-Rahman al-Bagi, part of a group of anti-Morsi protesters that has remained camped out at Cairo’s Tahrir Square since his overthrow. ‘‘Nothing is functioning because of the Muslim Brotherhood. They should leave the

By Associated Press

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Cairo Egypt Egyptian Protests Mohammed Morsi Muslim Brotherhood