Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi defies army's demand

Calls for unity as Egypt teeters

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CAIRO -- Brushing aside a military ultimatum and his deepening isolation, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi declared Tuesday that he was the legitimate leader of the country and blamed the spiraling and violent national crisis on what he repeatedly called the corrupt "remnants of the former regime" overthrown in the 2011 revolution.

In an emotional and rambling speech broadcast live on state television that extended past midnight into this morning, Mr. Morsi called upon both his supporters and opponents to put aside their disagreements and unite behind him, and hinted strongly that the country could fall into chaos if they did not.

"I am the president of Egypt," Mr. Morsi said, invoking again and again what he called his constitutional mandate to remain in power. "The remnants of the former regime, they are fighting against our democracy," he said, referring to the toppled government of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. "If they come back to the people, they will be rejected. They are accustomed to corruption, rigging elections, sucking dry the blood of the people." He added: "They cannot thrive in democracy."

There is "no substitute for legitimacy, no alternative," he said. "The price can be my life."

His speech seemed to augur the likelihood of violence when a military-issued 48-hour deadline calling for Mr. Morsi and his opponents to find a solution to their impasse expires at 4:30 p.m. today (10:30 a.m. EDT).

Addressing both his supporters and the opposition, Mr. Morsi said: "Safeguard Egypt, safeguard the revolution. The revolution we earned by the sweat of our eyebrows and by the blood of our martyrs."

It was Mr. Morsi's most extensive rebuttal to the growing calls on him to resign from an ever-widening spectrum of the Egyptian population, after a yearlong tenure that has been riven with turmoil and growing disenchantment with him and his Islamist supporters.

Mr. Morsi also demanded that the Egyptian military rescind its ultimatum against him, which his supporters have described as the prelude to a military coup.

Mr. Morsi's defiant message came amid a new outbreak of armed and lethal political violence, as protesters massed to call for his ouster. As the clock ticked on the military's ultimatum for the president to ease the crisis, high-ranking aides abandoned him and dozens of his supporters were hit by birdshot. At least seven people were reported killed.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr resigned, bringing to six the number of ministers to announce their resignations since the outbreak of mass anti-Morsi protests Sunday.

Other state institutions also undermined Mr. Morsi's grip on the state, with a court ruling ordering the removal of the Morsi-appointed prosecutor general, Talaat Abdallah, and moving to reinstate a prosecutor first appointed by Mubarak before his ouster in the Arab Spring euphoria of 2011.

Also Tuesday, Egypt's largest ultraconservative Islamist group and its political arm, the Nour party, joined the call for early presidential elections and formation of a caretaker Cabinet. The group did not heed the original calls to protests against Mr. Morsi, but it appears to have been influenced by the turnout.

The June 30 Front, the opposition umbrella group that has coordinated the protests, said Tuesday that it had named Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent Egyptian statesman and opposition leader, to represent the group in "any possible upcoming talks with the armed forces." The group said its demands included Mr. Morsi's departure and formation of a technocratic Cabinet to run the country.

The crisis drew in President Barack Obama, who spoke to Mr. Morsi by phone Monday during the last stage of an African tour.

According to a White House statement as Mr. Obama visited Tanzania, he told Mr. Morsi, "The United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group." He stressed that "democracy is about more than elections," it said, and encouraged Mr. Morsi to demonstrate "that he is responsive to the concerns of the protesters."


McClatchy Newspapers contributed.


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