Egypt's military delays dispersing protest camps

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CAIRO -- Egyptian authorities on Monday postponed plans to disperse two Cairo protest camps demanding the return of ousted President Mohammed Morsi after thousands of his supporters reinforced the sit-ins when news leaked to the press, military and security officials said.

Officials said they wanted to "avoid bloodshed," and the delay is likely to temporarily ease tensions that had spiked overnight, with the country bracing for a new bout of violence if police move against protesters. But the country remains on edge about how the standoff between the military-backed government and the protesters will end.

A judge, meanwhile, ordered that the deposed president, detained since his July 3 ouster, should be held for 15 more days pending investigations into charges that he conspired in 2011 with Palestinian militants, an official said.

The postponement announcement came as Morsi supporters held new rallies demanding his return to power, marching down a main boulevard at the heart of Cairo, chanting anti-military slogans and waving the toppled president's picture.

Tens of thousands have occupied two encampments in Cairo's streets since even before Mr. Morsi's July 3 overthrow. At least 130 of his supporters have been killed in two major clashes on the edges of the larger encampment.

An Egyptian security official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the postponement came after a plan to end the sit-ins by setting up cordons was leaked to the media Sunday. Thousands poured overnight into the sit-ins to prevent such a takeover. "We were stunned by the masses" who came to the camps, one military official said in an interview. A push into the sit-ins would trigger a "massacre," he said.

A second security official said, however, that leaking the news served to "uncover the Brotherhood's reaction to security forces' advances," referring to Mr. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group.

The security forces had planned to form cordons around the Cairo protest sites as early as dawn Monday, giving a chance for protesters to leave while preventing others from getting in, so as to minimize casualties before a push with water cannons and tear gas, officials who spoke earlier in interviews said.

The government's decision to clear the sit-ins came after the failure of nearly two weeks of efforts by the international community to end the standoff and find a peaceful resolution. Egypt's interim prime minister warned just ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ended Sunday, that the government's decision to clear the sit-ins was "irreversible."

Officials have said Egypt's Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate, has been pushing to extend negotiations and has threatened to resign in case of excessive use of force.

Mr. Morsi was deposed after millions of Egyptians took to the streets June 30, demanding he step down over what they saw as his failure to govern inclusively and failure to manage the economy. Many accused him of acting only on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. Huge protests continued for four days.

The Brotherhood has responded that the ouster of Mr. Morsi, the winner of Egypt's first freely contested presidential election, was a blow to legitimacy. They demand he be reinstated. The two sides have not been able to reach a compromise.

Mr. Morsi has not been seen since the military deposed him and disbanded the Islamist-dominated parliament.

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