Egypt tense ahead of deadline as Morsi refuses to quit
AFP Updated July 3, 2013, 9:52 pm
CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt was on edge Wednesday after President Mohamed Morsi refused to quit hours before an army ultimatum expires, following deadly violence during rival mass protests in Egypt's worst crisis since its 2011 revolution.
As the clock ticked down on the army's deadline for Morsi to meet the "people's demands" by 4:30 pm (1430 GMT), top military chiefs gathered for emergency talks, a source told AFP.
In a televised early morning address, Morsi said he had been freely elected to lead the troubled nation a little more than a year ago and intended to stick to his task.
The only alternative to respecting the constitutional legitimacy of the office was further bloodshed, the Islamist leader warned.
Senior armed forces commanders meeting on Wednesday swore to defend Egypt with their lives, a source close to the military told AFP.
"We swear to God that we will sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against all terrorists, extremists and the ignorant," they declared in an oath led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the source said.
The army was expected to issue a statement after its deadline passes.
As the two camps upped the stakes, the health ministry reported unidentified gunmen had killed 16 people and wounded about 200 more when they opened fire on a rally by his supporters in Cairo overnight.
A message posted on Morsi's official Twitter account called on the army to back off.
"President Morsi insists on (his) constitutional legitimacy and rejects any attempt to overstep it," the message said.
"(He) calls on the armed forces to withdraw their warning and rejects any dictates, domestic or foreign."
But Egypt's press predicted Wednesday would be the day of Morsi's departure.
"Today: Ouster or Resignation," splashed the state-owned mass circulation Al-Ahram. "The End," declared the independent Al-Watan.
Cairo's streets were unusually quiet Wednesday, with many choosing to stay home over fears of more violence.
"The Islamists declared war on the rest of the population yesterday. I'm very scared," said resident Soha Abdelrahman.
In Giza neighbourhood, a group of men stopped a minibus, threatening to "kill anyone with a beard" in reference to Islamists, a witness said.
Developments in Egypt also hit global oil prices, with New York crude hitting a 14-month peak on concerns that the crisis could affect the rest of the Middle East and disrupt global supplies, analysts said.
In Asian trading hours, New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude for August, surged to $102.18 per barrel -- which was last seen on May 4, 2012.
The contract later trimmed gains to stand at $101.07, up $1.45 from Tuesday's closing level.
After Morsi's speech, the opposition Tamarod movement, which on Sunday mobilised millions of demonstrators for what the military described as the biggest protests in Egypt's history, accused Morsi of "threatening his own people".
Morsi's opponents have welcomed the army's 48-hour ultimatum.
But his supporters accuse the generals of preparing a return to the unpopular military rule of the months between the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and Morsi's swearing-in on June 30 last year.
Government daily Al-Ahram reported details of the army's demands.
Its plan provides for an interim administration, of up to one year, which would include the head of the supreme constitutional court and a senior army figure.
The constitution, controversially approved by Morsi's Islamist allies in December, would be suspended for up to 12 months while a new one was drawn up and put to a referendum, before presidential and legislative elections.
The president renewed his appeal to the opposition to join a dialogue, an appeal already repeatedly rejected as a sham.
The main opposition June 30 Front coalition said it was ready to join urgent talks on the negotiated transition called for by the army.
Separately, Human Rights Watch said nearly 100 women have fallen victim to "rampant" sexual attacks in Cairo's Tahrir Square during four days of protests against Morsi.
As uncertainty grew, Morsi was hit with a spate of resignations on Tuesday, including that of foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.
US President Barack Obama, whose government is a major military aid donor to Egypt, called Morsi to warn him the voices of all Egyptians must be heard.
Morsi's opponents accuse him of having betrayed the revolution by concentrating power in Islamist hands and of sending the economy into freefall.
His supporters say he inherited many problems, and that he should be allowed to complete his term, which runs until 2016.