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Morsi backers defy sit-in warnings

Supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi remained defiant as Egypt's military-backed government offered protection to those who ended their two sit-ins - widely seen as a first step towards dispersing the vigils on opposite sides of Cairo.

The protesters responded to the televised offer on Thursday with: "Over our dead bodies!"

The stand-off underscored the political crisis since the armed forces toppled Egypt's first democratically-elected leader on July 3: thousands in the streets demanding Mr Morsi's reinstatement, a government unable to exert its authority and recurrent violence that has killed more than 260 people.

Rights groups, activists and politicians from rival camps, fearful of more bloodshed, tried to ward off any use of force, including a suggestion of putting a human chain around the protest sites.

International pressure grew for the interim government to release Mr Morsi and create a process that includes his Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political faction, which refuses to deal with the new authorities.

Despite a government warning that it would disperse the vigils, the Brotherhood and its supporters announced plans to organise new mass marches on Friday, dubbed "Egypt Against the Coup".

Organisers of the sit-ins outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo and a smaller one near Cairo University's main campus in Giza say the protests are signs of the enduring support for the once-dominant Muslim Brotherhood.

But mass rallies called by the military leader, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, on July 26 showed that a large segment of Egypt's population backs the armed forces' actions against Mr Morsi, who was overthrown following demonstrations by millions demanding that he step down after a year in office.

US Secretary of State John Kerry picked up that theme, telling Geo TV in Pakistan that the military was "restoring democracy". He added that millions of people had asked the army to intervene because they were afraid Egypt would descend into violence.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to interim vice president Mohammed ElBaradei, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. "I also called for the release of all political detainees, including Dr Morsi, unless there are criminal charges to be made against them," he said.

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