CAIRO — 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.
The military ousted Morsi in a July 3 coup that followed days of mass protests in which millions of Egyptians called on the Islamist leader to step down. Since then, the deposed Islamist leader's supporters have camped out in two Cairo squares demanding his reinstatement.
The United States and European Union are trying to mediate a peaceful resolution to the standoff to avoid a repeat of deadly clashes between Morsi's supporters and security forces that have killed at least 250 people since the army shunted Morsi aside.
But Egypt's National Defense Council (NDC) said the search for a peaceful resolution is not open-ended, and that a negotiated end would not shield what it called "law-breakers" and others who incite against the state from legal proceedings.
The NDC is led by the interim president. It includes Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the July 3 coup, as well as other top ministers.
Also Sunday, Egyptian authorities 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 the military's ouster of Morsi and said she had intended to join the larger of two sit-in protests by supporters of the former president in the Egyptian capital.
The airport officials said she was sent back on the Sunday flight that brought her to Cairo from the United Arab Emirates. They gave no reason as to why she was denied entry, saying only that her name had been placed on the stop list. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Sunday's statement by the National Defense Council is the latest warning to the pro-Morsi protesters.
Egypt's Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, called on them on Saturday to abandon their protest camps, while a senior U.S. diplomat met with officials on both sides of the country's political divide.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns extended his visit to Cairo by one day so he could meet el-Sissi and 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.
But the National Defense Council's statement suggested that the window for a negotiated end to the pro-Morsi sit-ins on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital was narrowing and not open-ended.
It said a chance should be given to all "negotiations and mediations" that could end the protests without bloodshed. But it said the timeframe should be "defined and limited and ... not infringe on the law and the rights of citizens."
The statement also called on the protesters to abandon the sit-ins and join the political road map announced the day of the ouster of Morsi, who is being held in an undisclosed location and faces legal accusations of comprising with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape prison in 2011.
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.
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