Defiant Morsi refuses to bow out in Egypt crisis
The fate of Egypt's first democratically elected president hung in the balance early today.
Hours before a deadline to yield to the demands of millions of protesters or see the military suspend the constitution, disband parliament and install a new leadership, embattled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi vowed not to resign.
Instead, he demanded that the powerful armed forces withdraw their ultimatum, saying he rejected all "dictates" from home or abroad.
In a speech to the nation, he pledged to protect his "constitutional legitimacy" with his life and accused loyalists of his autocratic predecessor Hosni Mubarak of riding the current wave of protests to topple his regime.
"There is no substitute for legitimacy," said Morsi, who at times angrily raised his voice, thrust his fist in the air and pounded the podium. He warned that electoral and constitutional legitimacy "is the only guarantee against violence".
Morsi's defiant statement sets up a major confrontation between his Islamist supporters and Egyptians angry over what they see as his efforts to impose control by his Muslim Brotherhood as well as his failure to introduce reforms more than two years after the Arab Spring revolution.
His opponents say that he has lost his legitimacy through mistakes and power grabs and that their turnout on the streets shows the nation has turned against him.
Millions of jubilant, chanting Morsi opponents filled Cairo's historic Tahrir Square, as well as avenues adjacent to two presidential palaces in the capital, and main squares in cities nationwide.
After Morsi's speech, they erupted in indignation, banging metal fences to raise a din, some raising their shoes in the air in a show of contempt. "Leave, leave," they chanted.
Morsi "doesn't understand. He will take us toward bloodshed and civil war", said protester Islam Musbah.
The president's supporters also increased their presence in the streets of the capital and other cities, after the Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Islamist leaders called them out to defend what they say is the legitimacy of his administration.
At least seven people were killed in three separate clashes between his supporters and opponents in Cairo, according to hospital and security officials.
A total of 23 people have died in political violence since the unrest began on Sunday, the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration.
Morsi's supporters have stepped up warnings that it will take bloodshed to dislodge him, saying they would rather die fighting a military takeover than accept his ouster just a year after Egypt's first free election.
A military source said the armed forces had seen Mr Morsi's statement and would issue a response to it.
Earlier the embattled president made a last-ditch effort to stay in power last night by meeting the head of the army and promising to resist attempts to remove him from office.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who claim their election victories since the overthrow of the dictator Hosni Mubarak are the country's sole source of political legitimacy, said they would not step down in the face of a military ultimatum. (© Daily Telegraph, London and agencies)