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.