Cairo - Egyptian authorities plan to besiege sit-in protest camps filled with supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, state television reported Friday, a step toward clearing areas that loyalists say they'll defend until their leader is returned to power.
A security cordon around the two Cairo sit-in sites raises the possibility of more violence in Egypt, still roiled a month after a military coup backed by popular support overthrew Morsi. Protesters armed with sticks and makeshift body armour already stand guard there behind walls of sandbags, tires and bricks.
The state TV broadcast said a cordon of security forces and vehicles will encircle the sit-in sites within 48 hours. The report said authorities will let people leave without officials inspecting their identities or arresting them. However, security forces will not allow anyone else into the protests, enacting a blockade on areas that have drawn thousands nightly.
On Thursday, Egypt's government offered protection and "safe passage" to those willing to voluntarily leave the protest camp, as it announced it was taking "measures" to end the protests. The government made its pledge a day after the military-backed government gave orders to police to end what it described as "threat to national security" and sources of "citizens' terrorism."
Rights groups warn against ending the protests by force. Most recently, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Egypt's interim leadership to take all measures to avert bloodshed.
"To avoid another bloodbath, Egypt's civilian rulers need to ensure the ongoing right of protesters to assemble peacefully, and seek alternatives to a forcible dispersal of the crowds," said Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
The month since the coup has seen more than 130 Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed and hundreds others injured in violent confrontations near the group's main sit-in outside Rabaah el-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo.
Egypt's military deposed Morsi on 3 July, following days of demonstrations by millions who rallied against him and the rule of his Muslim Brotherhood. Those protesting at the time said Morsi's one-year rule was rampant with political failures and focused on concentrating power in the hands of his Islamist group.
Morsi's group has opposed all measures taken by the military since the coup, including the appointment of an interim president, the suspension the constitution and the disbanding of the Islamist-dominated legislative council. The group publicly vowed to continue its street pressure until Morsi is reinstated, who remains held by the military
In remarks that signalled US support of the military, Secretary of State of John Kerry said he considered the military's move against Morsi as "restoring democracy" to Egypt.
A spokesperson of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Gehad el-Haddad, denounced Kerry's remarks in a statement on Friday.
"Does Secretary Kerry accept Defence Secretary [Chuck] Hagel to step in and remove [President Barak] Obama if large protests take place in America?" El-Haddad asked.