Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi are organizing fresh rallies Friday, even as the country's interim government threatens to disperse two Islamist-led sit-ins.
The demonstrators are demanding the reinstatement of Mr. Morsi, Egypt's first elected president who was removed by the military last month following days of mass protests against his rule.
The call for new protests come as Washington appeared to offer its strongest endorsement yet of the military ouster. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday the military was "in effect, restoring democracy" when it removed Mr. Morsi.
Kerry told Pakistani television the Egyptian army "was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos." He said there was no evidence the military has taken over control of the country.
Meanwhile, international human rights groups are urging Egypt not to use force to disperse a pair of Cairo sit-ins by Morsi supporters.
Egypt's military-backed interim government this week instructed security officials to end the Muslim Brotherhood-led sit-ins, calling them disruptive and a threat to national security.
Human Rights Watch called Friday for a halt to any immediate plans to forcibly disperse the protests, saying the right to peaceful assembly should be respected.
Warning of what it called "another bloodbath," the group said Egypt's civilian leaders should "seek alternative methods," given what it views as the "persistent record of excessive use of force" by police.
Nearly 200 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed since the Egyptian military toppled the Islamist leader on July 3. His supporters are demanding his return to the presidency and the restoration of the Islamist-drafted constitution.
On Thursday, Egypt's Interior Ministry urged Morsi supporters to leave the sit-ins, offering what it called a "safe exit" to protesters. The ministry said police commanders are considering how to move in against the protest camps.
Mr. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood fears the government dispersal could lead to what it views as another massacre, while officials insist that any police action would remain lawful.
The issue has been complicated by government accusations that some of the demonstrators are armed and intent on causing clashes with security officials. Muslim Brotherhood officials deny the charge.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International acknowledged "violent acts including torture and the use of live weapons" by some Morsi supporters. But the London-based group said this "should not be used as a pretext to prevent others from exercising their right to peaceful protest."
The Amnesty statement called the government's decision to disperse the sit-ins a "recipe for disaster."
The standoff over the sit-ins is part of a wider political stalemate in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has refused to take part in talks and elections aimed at establishing a new government and constitution.
The Islamist group views Mr. Morsi's ouster as a military coup and a return to the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, an ex-military commander who was ousted following a series of protests in 2011.
The Brotherhood was long banned under Mr. Mubarak and the country's previous military rulers. Though interim President Adly Mansour has called for the group to join the transition government, others have discussed the possibility of re-instating the ban against the Brotherhood.
The country's interim government plans to hold a referendum within five months to ratify amendments to the constitution. Parliamentary elections would take place early next year followed by a new presidential election.