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On the brink, Morsi insists: ‘I am the president of Egypt’

Graffiti depicting President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace, in Cairo. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hassan Ammar/AP

Brushing aside a military ultimatum and his deepening isolation, President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt declared on Tuesday that he was the legitimate leader of the country and blamed the spiralling 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 Wednesday morning, Mr. Morsi called on 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.

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"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."

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 year-long 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 two-day 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.

For the third consecutive day, anti-Morsi protesters packed Tahrir Square in central Cairo and filled the street in front of the main presidential palace while starting a new sit-in in front of a second palace, where Mr. Morsi has been working since last week. They chanted for the end of his rule of the country one year after he rode to victory as Egypt's first democratically elected president.

At the same time on Tuesday, reinforcing the sense of impending showdown, thousands of Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters demonstrated in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City and in front of Cairo University. Armed assailants firing birdshot and throwing rocks killled three people and wounded at least 90, police officials said. In a second location, a Cairo neighbourhood once considered a stronghold of support for the president's conservative allies, a gunfight erupted as pro-Morsi marchers entered the neighbourhood. An angry mob chased them away, and stripped and beat a man presumed to be among the supporters.

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 on Sunday, although the prime minister's office said in a statement that they would continue to carry out their duties.

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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 President Hosni Mubarak before his ouster in the Arab Spring euphoria of 2011.

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

The delicate interplay between Mr. Morsi and the military's top officer, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, was fraught with risks for both men, and for the nation. Faced with fuel shortages, dwindling hard currency reserves and worries about its wheat supplies, Egypt urgently needs a government stable and credible enough to manage difficult and disruptive economic reforms. A move by the military to force the Brotherhood from power, despite its electoral victories, could set off an Islamist backlash in the streets that would make stability and economic growth even more elusive.

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