Egypt’s interim government has authorised police to break up protests which have been continuing since Mohamed Morsi was removed from power, saying that officers will take “gradual steps” to disperse crowds.
Weeks-long rallies in support of the deposed president extended in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares in Cairo early on Thursday morning, despite the interim leadership’s warning.
“The continuation of the dangerous situation in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, and consequent terrorism and road blockages are no longer acceptable given the threat to national security,” a statement from the interim government said on Wednesday, adding that it has told police to take “all necessary measures” to disperse crowds.
Elsewhere on Thursday, Germany’s Guido Westerwelle, the first foreign minister to visit Egypt since Morsi was deposed, urged authorities to avoid “the appearance of selective justice”.
Speaking alongside his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy, he said: “There is no justice of vengeance and no selective justice. There is law and it applies to everyone.”
Earlier, authorities said they had referred the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and two other senior movement officials to a court on charges of inciting violence.
Following the warning against rallies, the US State Department urged Egypt to respect the right of peaceful assembly.
“We have continued to urge the interim government, officials and security forces, to respect the right of peaceful assembly,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told a news briefing. “That obviously includes sit-ins.”
Morsi’s supporters have been camped out in both squares demanding his reinstatement since July 3 when he was removed from power by the military.
“The government has decided to take all necessary measures to confront and end these dangers, and tasks the interior minister to do all that is necessary in this regard, in accordance with the constitution and law,” the interim leadership’s statement read, without giving a timeline.
Al Jazeera’s Dorothy Parvaz, reporting from Cairo, said the announcement did not deter the protesters.
“Despite the Cabinet decision to clear the sit-ins, a steady stream of people is pouring into the already crowded Rabaa vigil in Nasr City,” she said.
The interior ministry later clarified the statement, saying that police would take “gradual steps” to clear protesters.
Amnesty International said the decision to mandate security forces to end the pro-Morsi rallies is a “recipe for further bloodshed”.
“Given the Egyptian security forces’ record of policing demonstrations with the routine use of excessive and unwarranted lethal force, this latest announcement gives a seal of approval to further abuse,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty.
“The authorities as well as the security forces should start with an approach that avoids the use of force and is based on ‘methods of persuasion, negotiation and mediation’, as recommended by international standards,” she added.
More than 200 people have been killed in weeks of violence since the army deposed Morsi.
EU envoy Bernadino Leon was in Cairo on Wednesday to press the mediation effort.
US Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday that they would also visit Egypt to help quell violence and press for elections.