CAIRO, Egypt (AFP) – Egypt’s interior ministry promised Mohamed Morsi’s supporters “safe exit” Thursday if they quickly leave their Cairo protest camps, as police prepared to disperse them amid international appeals for restraint.
The call to disperse came after an early Thursday meeting in which police commanders discussed how to carry out orders from the military-installed interim government to end the protests, the ministry said in a statement.
Diplomatic efforts to avoid further bloodshed meanwhile picked up pace, with EU Middle East envoy Bernardino Leon and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle both arriving in Cairo to urge the rival camps to find common ground.
The interior ministry “calls on those in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares to let reason and the national interest prevail, and to quicky leave,” it said in a statement.
The ministry “pledges a safe exit and full protection to whoever responds to this appeal,” the statement added.
Morsi’s supporters had vowed to defy the crackdown ordered by the interim government on Wednesday, and called for a mass rally on Friday.
Ministers had ordered police to end sit-ins and marches by Morsi’s Islamist supporters, saying they amounted to a “national security threat.”
The orders raised fears of new violence, less than a week after 82 people were killed in clashes at a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo.
The international community, which has expressed mounting concern over the violence since Morsi’s July 3 ouster, warned against further bloodshed.
The German foreign minister, who arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, urged both sides to remain peaceful and seek an inclusive solution.
“I am here to encourage all political forces to engage in dialogue,” he said at a press conference Thursday with his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy.
Later, Westerwelle was scheduled to meet Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour and representatives of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties.
EU envoy Leon also landed in Cairo on Wednesday, to follow up on three days of intensive diplomacy by the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The U.S. State Department called on the interim authorities to “respect the right of peaceful assemblies.”
“That obviously includes sit-ins,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for “an urgent end to the current bloodshed” and the release of Morsi, in a phone call to Egypt’s interim vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, Britain’s Foreign Office said.
Amnesty International condemned the cabinet order as a “recipe for further bloodshed”.
In Rabaa al-Adawiya, the mood was calm after the cabinet’s announcement. Thousands of protesters have been camped out in a tent city at the square.
The interior ministry had already warned that the demonstrations would be dispersed “soon,” but without saying when or how.
Foreign trade minister Munir Fakhry Abdel Nur said Wednesday’s statement did not “give room for interpretation”.
Accusing Morsi supporters of bearing arms, he told AFP: “It is clear the interior ministry has been given the green light to take the necessary measures within legal bounds.”
Much of the Egyptian media expressed support for the government’s decision, with some saying that the interim administration had received “the people’s mandate” in demonstrations last Friday backing Morsi’s overthrow.
More than 250 people have been killed since the army ousted him following nationwide protests against his single year in power.
Further raising tensions on Wednesday, judicial sources said several top Brotherhood leaders would be referred to trial for incitement to murder.
Supreme guide Mohamed Badie, who is in hiding, and his jailed deputies Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, stand accused of inciting the killing of demonstrators outside Brotherhood headquarters on the night of June 30.
Morsi himself has been formally remanded in custody on suspicion of offences when he broke out of prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
He was detained hours after the coup and is being held at an undisclosed location, where the EU foreign policy chief met him on Tuesday, later telling reporters that he was “well.”
Photo Credit: AFP/Fayez Nureldine