CAIRO // The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said yesterday that the Egyptian army, which deposed Mohammed Morsi, had intervened at the request of millions to protect democracy and had restored it.
The top US diplomat's comments came as Egypt's army-backed government yesterday urged supporters of Mr Morsi to abandon their Cairo protest camps, promising them a safe exit if they gave up without a fight.
"The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence," Mr Kerry said during a visit to Pakistan. "And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment - so far. To run the country, there's a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy," he said.
Asked about allegations that Egyptian troops had shot dead people in the streets, he said: "Oh, no. That's not restoring democracy, and we're very, very concerned ... I've been in touch with all of the players there. And we have made it clear that that is absolutely unacceptable, it cannot happen."
In Cairo yesterday, the interior ministry spokesman, Hany Abdel Latif, on state television encouraged pro-Morsi supporters to vacate their protest camps, adding to the government's warning on Wednesday that it was ready to take action to end two weeks of sit-in protests by thousands of the ousted president's supporters at two sites.
Since the army ousted the Islamist Mr Morsi on July 3, police have rounded up many leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood, mostly on charges of inciting violence. Wednesday's threat raised the possibility of a potentially bloody showdown.
Mr Latif said that if protesters left the sites peacefully, they would be guaranteed a safe exit. No deadline was set.
"There is no specified date. We will continue to study the situation on the ground," Mr Latif said.
The protesters remained defiant yesterday morning and prepared for the worst.
At the Rabaa Al Adawiya camp, boxes and other rubbish that had littered the ground were cleared to allow easier ambulance access.
Behind a barricade made of bricks and sandbags, rocks had been piled up to use as ammunition.
"We are ready. We are ready to die for legitimacy. An attack can happen at any moment," said Mohamed Saqr, a Brotherhood activist.
Egypt is now more polarised than at any time since the US-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011, starting off a political transition fraught with unrest.
The government's new transition plan envisions parliamentary elections in about six months, to be followed by a presidential vote. The Brotherhood says the army has mounted a coup against a legitimate elected leader and wants nothing to do with the plan.
The government was buoyed by huge pro-army rallies last Friday in response to a call by the army chief, Gen Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, for Egyptians to give him a "mandate" to crack down on "violence and terrorism" - a reference to the Brotherhood and its followers.
Mr Morsi has been in army detention since his overthrow and faces a judicial inquiry into accusations that include murder and kidnapping. The authorities also brought formal charges on Wednesday against the Brotherhood's three top leaders, two of whom are in custody.
The visiting German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, yesterday urged the authorities to avoid "the appearance of selective justice".
But his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy, speaking alongside him, retorted that there was no agenda of vengeance and no selective justice.
"There is law and it applies to everyone," Mr Fahmy said.
A grouping of Morsi supporters calling itself the Anti-Coup Pro-Democracy Alliance said the security forces planned to foment violence as an excuse for committing a massacre. Peaceful protests would continue, it said.
The Brotherhood's spokesman, Gehad El Haddad, said: "This military coup is not accepted by a large segment of society. I think he [Leon] got the message."
Thousands of Brotherhood supporters are camped out behind sandbag fortifications at Rabaa Al Adawiya. The entrances are guarded by volunteers with sticks and shields. The government says the protesters are using guns.
The Brotherhood has vowed to resist any attempt by the security forces to disperse the camps.
Such forcible action could set off more bloodletting after security forces killed 80 Brotherhood followers on Saturday and plunged the world's most populous Arab nation deeper into turmoil. The Brotherhood has called for a "million-man march" today.