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Supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi planned new rallies on Friday as the interim premier


Morsi supporters call for new rallies as PM warns crackdown on their protest camps is nearing

By Samer al-Atrush - CAIRO

suggested a crackdown on their protest camps was imminent.

The government has said it held off from breaking up the Islamist's protest camps in Cairo out of respect for the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on Wednesday night, and to give foreign mediators a chance to end the deadlock peacefully.

The confrontation is imminent

With the failure of the mediation, the country is bracing for an increasingly inevitable confrontation between the army-installed government and Morsi's loyalists demanding his reinstatement.

"The government wants to give the protesters, especially the reasonable ones among them, a chance to reconcile and heed the voice of reason," said prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi.

But he warned "that the situation is approaching the moment we would rather avoid," in a statement late Thursday.

The main pro-Morsi coalition, the Anti-Coup Alliance, called for the marches to set off from different Cairo mosques after Friday noon prayers.

"The Egyptian people are continuing, and the days will only increase their determination to persist in their peaceful struggle until the country returns to the democratic path, until the coup is completely ended," a statement said.

Western powers have warned of further bloodshed and, in a moment of rare agreement, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of a possible civil war with "dire consequences."

A civil war, similar to Algeria's after the military moved on Islamists on the cusp of election victory, is highly unlikely in Egypt.

But an uptick in attacks, such as the bombing of a police station in a Nile Delta city on July 24, may ensue as more radical Morsi supporters turn to militancy.

Many supporters of the July 3 coup that overthrew Morsi, after millions rallied demanding his resignation, have pressed the government to crack down on the Islamists.

"A truce for Eid," read the headline of the state newspaper Al-Gomhuria on Friday, as the countdown began to the dispersal of the Cairo protest camps.

Eid al-Fitr is the holiday that concludes the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and that ends in Egypt at sunset on Saturday.

The main sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square has come to resemble a village of tents, raising concerns of a possible carnage if police move in.

"This remains a very fragile situation, which holds not only the risk of more bloodshed and polarisation in Egypt, but also impedes the economic recovery which is so essential for Egypt's successful transition," said a joint statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday.

"The Egyptian government bears a special responsibility to begin this process to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens," it added.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and EU envoy Bernardino Leon left Cairo this week without making headway in finding a compromise.

The interim presidency said diplomats' efforts had failed and held Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood responsible "for consequent events and developments relating to violations of the law and endangering public safety".

Violence on the sidelines of demonstrations between the deposed president's supporters and opponents has killed more than 250 people -- mostly Morsi's backers -- since the end of June.

Western envoys had pressured the Brotherhood to end its sit-ins, according to Islamists who attended the talks. They also demanded that the government release jailed Islamist leaders as a confidence-building measure.

Morsi himself is being held on suspicion of having collaborated with Palestinian militants to kill policemen and stage jail breaks during the 2011 uprising against strongman Hosni Mubarak, while Morsi was in prison.

The Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, and his deputies are to stand trial later this month on charges of inciting the shootings of protesters outside their headquarters on June 30.

The Islamists say a prisoner release is a precondition for further talks on finding a settlement, which could include symbolically reinstating Morsi, who would then call early elections.

However, the government says it is in the judiciary's hands.

Authorities have promised demonstrators a safe exit and said ending their protests would allow the Brotherhood to return to political life.

More than 80 protesters were killed in clashes with police at the main sit-in outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on June 27.

And upwards of 50 people died in earlier clashes outside an elite army base.

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