Germany has urged Egypt to avoid "the appearance of selective justice" following the arrests of some senior leaders of deposed president Mohammed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was speaking to journalists alongside his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy.

Mr Fahmy responded by saying: "There is no justice of vengeance and no selective justice. There is law and it applies to everyone."

His remarks were translated into German.

Yesterday, the Egyptian authorities decided to refer the Brotherhood's three top leaders, including its general guide Mohamed Badie, for trial on charges of inciting violence.

Mr Badie has not yet been arrested. His two lieutenants are in custody.

Mr Mursi has been in detention in an undisclosed location since he was deposed by the army on 3 July.

He faces a judicial inquiry into accusations that he conspired with the Palestinian Islamist Hamas group during his escape from prison during 2011. He is also accused of murder.

Germany had pressed for access to Mr Mursi by neutral parties and welcomed a visit made by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton earlier this week, Mr Westerwelle said.

Asked whether Germany viewed Mr Mursi's removal as a military coup, he said: "These are first minutes of an historic hour ... You cannot judge a movement conclusively which is still in flow."

Last night, Egypt's cabinet ordered police to end sit-in protests by supporters of Mr Mursi, saying they posed an "unacceptable threat" to national security.

It signals that a move to end the protests in an eastern Cairo district and across the city outside the main Cairo university camps was imminent.

A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed El-Beltagy, said using force to end the sit-in was "a decision killing thousands".