13 Aug 2013

Police hold off dispersing Mursi supporters

4:51 am on 13 August 2013

Egyptian security forces held off on Monday from launching operations to disperse supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi that officials had said would start at dawn.

It was believed police would take initial action against Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in two areas of Cairo to end a six-week street standoff between supporters of the two main political views.

It was not clear whether police would start a risky and potentially bloody confrontation with thousands of supporters of Egypt's first democratically elected president later in the day.

Western and Arab envoys and some senior Egyptian government officials have been pressing the army to avoid using force in any attempt to lance a crisis that has festered for weeks in the deeply divided Arab country of 84 million people.

One security source said action against the protesters had been delayed because larger crowds had arrived at the protest camps after news broke that a crackdown was imminent.

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said the demonstrations by supporters of Mr Mursi would have to end very soon because of the disruption they cause. Speaking to the BBC, he said the government is still hoping to resolve the situation through dialogue.

"Every effort is being made to resolve this through dialogue. At the same time, the stand-off cannot continue endlessly, because law and order has to be in place and people need to be able to have access to their homes and work and so on and so forth."

Mr Fahmy said security forces would act by court order according to standards allowed by the law.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since Mr Mursi's overthrow, including dozens of his supporters shot dead by security forces in two incidents.

Egypt has been convulsed by political and economic turmoil since the 2011 uprising that ended 30 years of autocratic rule by American-backed President Hosni Mubarak, and the most populous Arab nation is now more polarised than any time for many years.

There is deepening alarm in the West over the course taken by Egypt, which sits astride the Suez Canal and receives $US1.5 billion a year in mainly military aid from the United States.