Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi announced late Tuesday that he would not step down and called on the military to withdraw its ultimatum that it will intervene if he does not work out differences with the opposition.
Addressing the Egyptian people on television late Tuesday night in speech that lasted 45 minutes, Morsi vowed to stay in office, insisting he was elected by the people in free and fair elections, and that "democratic legitimacy" is the only guarantee against violence.
Three hours after Morsi's speech early Wednesday morning, Egypt's high command said the army was ready to die to defend Egypt's people against terrorists and fools, in response to Morsi that was headlined "The Final Hours."
The post on the official Facebook page of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), headed by armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said: "We swear to God that we will sacrifice even our blood for Egypt and its people, to defend them against any terrorist, radical or fool."
According Egypt's health ministry, 16 people died and over 200 were wounded during clashes at a pro-Morsi rally at Cairo University late Tuesday into Wednesday.
Morsi said he would defend the legitimacy of his elected office with his life and urged Egyptians to reject challenges to the legal order. Morsi conceded his first year in office had been difficult and he faced challenges from corrupt remnants of the old regime.
"My life is the price for protecting the legitimacy," he said. "If my blood was the price to maintain legitimacy, then I am ready for this for the sake of this nation's stability."
In a response to the military ultimatum to share power with his opponents, Morsi said he had tried such dialogue before and had been unsuccessful. But he insisted he would continue fulfilling the duties to which he had been democratically elected.
Blaming the previous regimes, Morsi emphasized he is the first democratically elected president in Egypt and stated that "constitutional legitimacy" is what can prevent bloodshed.
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 Islam Musbah, a 28-year-old protester sitting on the sidewalk outside the Ittihadiya palace, dejectedly resting his head on his hand.
The president's supporters also increased their presence in the streets of the capital and other cities, after the Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Islamist leaders called them out to defend what they say is the legitimacy of his administration.
At least 23 people have died in political violence since the unrest began on Sunday, the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration.
At least seven people were killed in three separate clashes between his supporters and opponents in Cairo, according to hospital and security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
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