- Associated Press - Sunday, August 4, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s highest security body warned Sunday that the clock is ticking in the search for a peaceful end to the standoff over sit-ins by ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters, suggesting that authorities will break up the vigils unless ongoing mediation efforts produce results soon.

More than a month after the military shunted Morsi aside, tens of thousands of the deposed Islamist leader’s supporters remain camped out in two main crossroads in Cairo demanding his reinstatement. Egypt’s military-backed interim leadership has issued a string of warnings to the protesters to disperse or the security forces will move in, setting the stage for a potential bloody showdown.

The U.S. and EU are trying to mediate a peaceful resolution to the standoff to avoid a repeat of deadly street violence that has killed more than 250 people — at least 130 of which were pro-Morsi protesters shot dead by security forces in two bloody clashes — since the July 3 military coup.

A senior U.S. official stayed on in Cairo for an extra day Sunday to hold another round of talks with officials on both sides of the political divide. While diplomats were racing to try to cobble together a compromise, the Egyptian interim government signaled that its patience with the pro-Morsi camp was running out.

The National Defense Council, which is led by the interim president and includes top ministers in the administration, said the search for a peaceful resolution is not open-ended, and that a negotiated resolution would not shield what it called “law-breakers” and others who incite against the state from legal proceedings.

It said a chance should be given to all “negotiations and mediations” that could end the protests without bloodshed, but that the timeframe should be “defined and limited and … not infringe on the law and the rights of citizens.” It also called on the protesters to abandon the sit-ins and join the political road map announced the day of Morsi’s ouster.

With the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year suspended and the legislature dominated by Morsi’s supporters dissolved, the road map provides for a new or an amended constitution to be put to a national referendum later this year and presidential and parliamentary elections early in 2014

In a move that underlined the government’s resolve in dealing with the protests — now in their second month — Egyptian authorities on Sunday denied Yemen’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman entry into Egypt after she landed at Cairo airport on Sunday, airport officials said.

Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace prize, has stated her opposition to Egypt’s military coup and said she had intended to join the larger of two pro-Morsi sit-in protests.

Airport officials said she was sent back on the Sunday flight that brought her to Cairo from the United Arab Emirates. They did not say why she was denied entry, only that her name had been placed on a list. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The decision to bar Karman entry suggests that authorities wanted to deny the pro-Morsi camp the publicity she would have generated and the lift her presence would have given to the Islamists’ argument that the outcry over Morsi’s ouster is shared by prominent figures outside Egypt.

Karman shared the Nobel Peace prize in 2011 with Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and women’s rights campaigner Leymah Gbowee. She earned it for her role in the protests that swept Yemen in 2011 to force longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh from office. Saleh stepped down last year, handing over power to his deputy as part of a transition plan.

Sunday’s comments by the National Defense Council is the latest warning to the pro-Morsi protesters, who on Sunday blocked a major road that runs through most of the city and leads to its international airport. It follows a statement a day earlier from the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, urging the demonstrators to abandon their protest camps.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns extended his visit to Cairo by one day so he could meet Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the coup, as well as the country’s prime minister on Sunday, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said. A member of the pro-Morsi delegation that met Saturday with Burns said the four delegates also would hold another round of talks with the U.S. diplomat on Sunday.

At the core of discussions is the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails, and its Islamist allies. The Brotherhood says it is looking for concessions before beginning talks with the new, military-backed administration. These measures could include releasing detained Brotherhood leaders, unfreezing the group’s assets, lifting a ban on Islamist TV stations loyal to Morsi and reigning in the use of force against its protesters.

Morsi has been held at undisclosed locations since July 3, and faces accusations of comprising with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape prison in 2011. He has over the past week been visited by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and a delegation of African statesmen. Ashton reported that he was well and had access to television and newspapers.

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