Morsi refuses to step down amid fresh Egypt bloodshed
Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi vowed he would not quit despite mass protests demanding his resignation and an army ultimatum as fresh deadly violence rocked capital Cairo.
In a televised address on Tuesday evening, the embattled Islamist leader said he had been freely elected to lead the troubled nation 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 on the streets, he warned.
Just hours after his speech, the health ministry reported that unidentified gunman had killed 16 people and wounded about 200 more after opening fire on a rally of his supporters in Cairo.
Morsi's speech came as the clock ticked down to a Wednesday deadline set by the army for the president to meet the "people's demands" or have a solution imposed on him.
While he made no direct reference to the ultimatum in his speech, a message posted on his 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."
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 Egyptian history, accused Morsi of "threatening his own people".
Morsi and army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi were locked in talks on Tuesday to "discuss the current crisis," a military source said.
The army's ultimatum Monday drew a rapturous welcome from opponents of the president but his supporters accused the generals of preparing a return to the unpopular military rule of the months between the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak and Morsi's swearing-in last year.
Government daily Al-Ahram, in its online edition, reported details of the demands set out by the army.
The army told Morsi to step down if he could not come up with a plan that would satisfy the masses calling for him to go, or face being removed, it reported.
The plan provided for an interim administration of up to a year to replace him, which would include the head of the supreme constitutional court and a senior army figure, the paper reported.
The constitution, controversially approved by Morsi's Islamist allies last December, would be suspended for up to a year while a new one was drawn up.
There would be presidential and legislative elections under terms set by the new constitution, which itself would be put to a referendum.
But in his speech, Morsi said respect for the constitutional order was the "only guarantee against further bloodshed."
"The people chose me in free and fair elections," and he would "continue to shoulder his responsibilities" as Egypt struggles with the legacy of decades of authoritarian rule.
Once again, he accused supporters of the ousted Mubarak of trying to sow chaos and incite violence.
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.
The Front, which includes the grassroots Tamarod movement, named former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei as its chief negotiator.
In addition to the 16 deaths at the pro-Morsi rally, seven other people were killed and dozens more injured in clashes in the capital between the president's supporters and opponents.
As political uncertainty grew Tuesday, Morsi was hit with a spate of resignations, including that of his foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.
Presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy and cabinet spokesman Alaa al-Hadidi also resigned, officials and the media reported.
US President Barack Obama, whose government is a major military aid donor to Egypt, called Morsi to warn him that the voices of all Egyptians must be heard, a White House official said.
Washington was committed to "the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group," Obama told him.
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 from a corrupt regime, and that he should be allowed to complete his term, which runs until 2016.