US urges army to free Morsi, supporters defiant

CAIRO - The United States on Friday called on Egypt's military to free deposed president Mohamed Morsi, as tens of thousands of his supporters vowed to keep fighting for his reinstatement.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States agreed with Germany's earlier appeal for Morsi to be released and was "publicly" making the same request.

The deposed Islamist president has been held in a "safe place," according to Egypt's interim leaders, and has not been seen in public since his ouster on July 3.

Psaki said Washington wanted "an end to restrictions on Mr Morsi's whereabouts", while Germany suggested a trusted institution such as the International Committee of the Red Cross should be granted access to him.

Rival demonstrators rallied in the capital on Friday, but while there had been fears of fresh violence, the evening passed off peacefully.

As night fell on Cairo, tens of thousands of Islamist protesters prayed and broke their fast together with an iftar meal on the first weekend of the holy month of Ramadan.

In Cairo's Tahrir Square and outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace meanwhile, hundreds of anti-Morsi protesters sat down for their own iftar meal.

Morsi's supporters had spent the day protesting outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the Nasr City neighbourhood.

They held Egyptian flags and Korans, and chanted slogans against the military coup that unseated Egypt's first freely elected president.

"We will continue to resist," key Islamist leader Safwat Hegazi told Friday's crowd.

"We will stay one or two months, or even one or two years. We won't leave here until our president, Mohamed Morsi, comes back,"

Hegazi demanded Morsi's reinstatement, immediate parliamentary elections and a committee to oversee a plan for national reconciliation.

Mohamed Yousry, a teenager at the rally, said: "I'll leave as a dead body. "We will defend Morsi with our blood."

The Muslim Brotherhood posted online a picture of a leaflet it said a military helicopter had been dropping on protesters.

The leaflets assured them they were safe, but warned them not to approach military installations.

Thousands also massed in support of Morsi outside the University of Cairo, watched over by a heavy security presence.

US President Barack Obama discussed Egypt's crisis during a phone call Friday with Saudi King Abdullah, a White House statement said.

"They agreed that the United States and Saudi Arabia have a shared interest in supporting Egypt's stability," the statement said.

Obama also expressed "serious concern" about the violence in Egypt following the military overthrow of Morsi. He underscored the need to return to a democratically elected civilian government.

King Abdullah was the first foreign head of state to congratulate Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour, hours after he was named to replace Morsi.

In the run-up to Morsi's overthrow, millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets to demand his resignation.

They accused him of being a puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood and of failing to fulfil the people's aspirations of freedom and social justice.

The mass anti-Morsi demonstrations prompted the army's intervention and days of bloody clashes.

But the interim authorities are pressing ahead with forming a new government amid financial help from Gulf states to shore up the faltering economy.

Interim premier Hazem al-Beblawi has decided on 90 per cent of his proposed cabinet line-up and will begin talks on Saturday with the nominees, sources told the official MENA news agency.

The full cabinet line-up will be finalised by the middle of next week, MENA reported.

The Muslim Brotherhood has refused to join the new government, but its leadership is in disarray, key figures either detained, on the run or keeping a low profile.

In the worst single incident of the recent violence, clashes at an army building in Cairo on Monday killed 53 people, mostly Morsi supporters.

The Brotherhood accuses the army of "massacring" its supporters, while the army says soldiers were attacked by "terrorists" and armed protesters.

Police are hunting Brotherhood chief Mohammed Badie and other senior leaders suspected of inciting violence, after arrest warrants were issued on Wednesday.

And the public prosecutor has pressed charges against 200 of 650 people detained during Monday's violence.

Adly Mansour, the military-appointed caretaker president, has set a timetable for elections by early next year.

But Morsi opponents and supporters alike have criticised the interim charter he issued on Monday to replace the Islamist-drafted constitution.

Even the army has acknowledged that the transition period will be "difficult".