Egypt to isolate Morsy protests
CAIRO — Authorities outlined plans Friday to break up two sit-ins by supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsy, saying they would set up a cordon around the protest sites, and riot police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators threatening a TV complex.
Morsy backers showed their defiance by briefly setting up a third camp near the airport but later folded their tents and left.
The military-backed interim government seeks to end a political stalemate that has paralyzed Egypt and deeply divided the country. Supporters of Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood say they will not disperse until he is returned to power.
The second-ranking U.S. diplomat arrived in the Egyptian capital for talks on the political crisis as Secretary of State John Kerry warned both sides that “the last thing we want is more violence.”
Amnesty International reported cases of alleged killings and torture at the hands of Morsy supporters inside the protest camps, saying that one man's throat was cut and another was stabbed to death.
In southwestern Cairo, police fired tear gas at Morsy supporters who rallied in front of Media City, a site housing most of Egypt's private TV stations, a security official said. A second official told the state news agency that protesters tried to “obstruct traffic in an attempt to affect work at the complex.”
The rally was “a desperate attempt by rioters from the (Islamist) current,” Maj. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Othman, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told the private TV station Mehwer. “There was reinforcement from police and army that will not allow any reckless person to get close to the Media City or storm it.”
He described the protesters as “brainwashed” to attack broadcasters perceived as secular opponents of the Islamists. Last year, Morsy supporters held a sit-in near Media City, often harassing TV personalities and forcing many of them to sneak into the studios from other entrances.
The new unrest occurred as state-controlled TV reported that security forces will establish a cordon within 48 hours around the two main protest sites in Cairo where thousands have been camped out since before Morsy was ousted by the military on July 3.
The government offered protection and “safe passage” to those willing to leave the two main camps — a large one outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo and a smaller one near Cairo University's main campus in Giza. The leadership had earlier given orders to police to end what it described as “threat to national security” and sources of “citizens' terrorism.”
Authorities will let people leave without checking their identities or arresting them, but they will not allow anyone into the protest camps, the report stated. It did not elaborate on the next steps, but the government had said it will use water cannons and tear gas in dispersing the crowds.
The Morsy supporters were planning rallies late Friday outside security headquarters near one sit-in site, including the Republican Guard club, where they had staged a protest that turned bloody last month, and another army building.
The security cordon around the protest camps raises the possibility of new violence, which has killed more than 130 Morsy supporters and injured hundreds since the military coup. The ouster followed mass demonstrations calling for Morsy to step down after a year in office, saying his policies had failed and he had put power in the hands of his Islamist group.
Facing domestic and international pressure to avoid bloodshed, authorities have taken the unusual step of going into details of their security plans.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told a newspaper that police have finalized plans for breaking up the sit-ins, and were awaiting orders from prosecutors to start the second phase of its operation.
Police have given authorities information about weapons in the protest camps and the “dangers emanating” from there, and that the next phase of the plan, which includes surrounding the sites, would begin within hours, he was quoted as saying.
“The forces have established their presence in various areas with the aim of protecting security and stability,” Ibrahim said, adding that the ministry was awaiting legal action from the prosecutors.