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Morsi backers defiant in face of Egypt govt threat

Monday - 7/29/2013, 5:04am  ET

Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi pray during a protest near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, Sunday, July 28, 2013. Setting the stage for more confrontation, the military-installed interim president, Adly Mansour, gave Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi the power to grant the military the right to arrest civilians in what government officials said could be a prelude to a major crackdown on Morsi's supporters or Islamic militants who have stepped up attacks against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

MAGGIE MICHAEL
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- Escalating the confrontation after clashes that left 83 supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist president dead, the interim government moved Sunday toward dismantling two pro-Mohammed Morsi sit-in camps, accusing protesters of "terrorism" and vowing to deal with them decisively.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood denounced Saturday's bloodshed as evidence of the brutality of the military-backed regime. But many accused the group's leaders of trying to capitalize on the loss of life to win sympathy after millions took to the streets in a show of support for the military chief who ousted Morsi in a coup.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he would take the popular support as a mandate to deal with violence and "potential terrorism" -- a thinly veiled reference to a widely expected crackdown on Morsi supporters in the sit-in camps in Cairo and against radical Islamists in the Sinai peninsula who have been waging deadly attacks against security forces since Morsi was ousted in a July 3 military coup.

The coup followed days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians demanding that Morsi step down after a year in office as Egypt's first elected president. The monthlong sit-ins have been the launch pad of street protests that often ended violently when Morsi's supporters clashed with opponents or security forces.

Islamists led by the Brotherhood staunchly reject the new post-Morsi leadership and insist the only possible solution to the crisis is to reinstate him. Meanwhile, the interim leadership is pushing ahead with a fast-track transition plan to return to a democratically elected government by early next year.

The Brotherhood, accused by critics of trying to monopolize power during Morsi's year in office, routinely claims its supporters are killed in cold blood by army troops, police or thugs sponsored by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police. However, witnesses and videos posted on social networking sites show that Morsi's supporters consistently use rocks, firebombs and firearms against opponents, who behave similarly.

The Brotherhood's tactic is clearly designed to win sympathy at home and abroad by portraying itself as a victimized party pitted against an army and a police force armed to the teeth.

"We urge the United Nations, the international human community ... to come down and rescue the hundreds of thousands from the massacre by the live ammunition in the hands of the criminals," senior Brotherhood leader Mohammed el-Beltagi shouted from the stage at the larger of the two Cairo sit-ins.

"We want intervention by the international organizations ... to rescue the people. We urge the Egyptian people to come to our rescue. ... The people are slaughtered like sheep",'' declared el-Beltagi, who has an arrest warrant issued against him for inciting violence.

Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood's supreme leader, launched a stinging attack on el-Sissi over the latest violence, saying the military chief was leading a "bloody regime" and urging his followers to stand fast.

"Don't be sad and don't despair," he said in a message that heavily quoted from the Quran, Islam's holy book. Posted on the Brotherhood's website, Badie said those killed in the latest violence were martyrs who will be rewarded with a place in heaven.

Underlining the tension, the military's chief spokesman posted on his Facebook page late on Sunday a statement warning pro-Morsi supporters from staging a protest outside the military intelligence headquarters in Cairo.

"The military urges protesters not to approach its installations, particularly the military intelligence building. These are secure installations that have vital importance. Individuals coming close to them or trying to harass those tasked with protecting them can be in danger," said the statement by Col. Ahmed Ali.

The warning, he said, was triggered by information that the pro-Morsi protesters were planning to march on the military intelligence headquarters late Sunday.

The international community, meanwhile, urged restraint.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strongly worded statement telling Egyptian authorities it was "essential" they respect the right to peaceful protest and calling on all sides to enter a "meaningful political dialogue.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also asked security forces to "act with full respect for human rights" and demonstrators to "exercise restraint."

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, arrived in Cairo on Sunday for her second visit to Egypt this month, a sign of the alarm felt in the West over the continuing bloodshed. She was to meet Egyptian leaders on Monday.

The U.N.'s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, also condemned the violence and called for a "credible, independent investigation" into the killings.

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