Egyptian military says only dialogue can avert disaster

Sat Dec 8, 2012 3:40pm EST
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By Alistair Lyon and Tamim Elyan

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's military, stepping into a crisis pitting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi against opponents who accuse him of grabbing excessive power, said on Saturday only dialogue could avert "catastrophe".

State broadcasters interrupted their programs to read out an army statement telling feuding factions that a solution to the upheaval in the most populous Arab nation should not contradict "legitimacy and the rules of democracy".

That sounded like a swipe at protesters who have besieged the palace of the freely elected president and called for his removal, going beyond mainstream opposition demands for him to retract a decree that expanded his powers.

The statement also called for a "serious" national dialogue - perhaps one more credible than talks convened by Mursi on Saturday in the absence of opposition leaders. They insist he must first scrap his November 22 decree, defer next week's popular vote on a new constitution and allow the text to be revised.

Deep rifts have emerged over the destiny of a country of 83 million where the end of Hosni Mubarak's 30 years of military-backed one-man rule led to a messy army-led transition, during which the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies won two elections. Many Egyptians crave stability and economic recovery.

The spokesman for the main Islamist coalition demanded that the referendum go ahead on time on the constitution drafted by an Islamist-led assembly from which liberals had walked out.

The army, which ran Egypt for months after Mubarak fell in February 2011, again cast itself primarily as the neutral guarantor of the nation. A military source said there was no plan to retake control of the country or its turbulent streets.

"DARK TUNNEL"   Continued...

A sign, which reads: "Leave", is pictured on a barbed wire barricade guarding the presidential palace in Cairo, as Republican Guard soldiers stand in line behind the barricade December 7, 2012. Tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters surged around the presidential palace on Friday and the opposition rejected Mursi's call for dialogue to end a crisis that has polarised the nation and sparked deadly clashes. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany