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Egypt army says right to protest protected, urges restraint

CAIRO - The Egyptian armed forces said on Thursday they would not take arbitrary measures against any political group and would guarantee the right to protest, as long as demonstrations did not threaten national security.

The statement was posted on Facebook after the arrests of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood following the army's removal of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and ahead of protest rallies that the Brotherhood was planning to hold on Friday.

The United States, which subsidises Egypt's armed forces, has voiced concerns about human rights and pressed for a rapid return to elected civilian government - though it has stopped short of calling the overthrow of Mursi a "coup."

Egypt's army command said: "Wisdom, true nationalism and constructive human values that all religions have called for, require us now to avoid taking any exceptional or arbitrary measures against any faction or political current."

It added: "Peaceful protest and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed to everyone, which Egyptians have earned as one of the most important gains of their glorious revolution.

"Excessive use of this right without reason could carry some negative implications, including blocking roads, delaying public benefits and destroying institutions, posing a threat to social peace, the national interest and damaging the security and economy in our precious Egypt."

The Brotherhood, which was banned and oppressed under Egypt's previous military-backed rulers, denounced a military coup against the country's first freely elected leader on Wednesday.

Other parties, including liberals and some Islamists, with backing from a range of groups including clerics and youth activists, endorsed a plan issued by the armed forces for revising the constitution and holding new elections.


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