Egypt's president Morsi offers nothing to defuse crisis

Morsi

An angry Mohammed Morsi refused Thursday to call off a referendum on a disputed constitution that has sparked Egypt's worst political crisis in two years, drawing chants of "topple the regime!'' from protesters who waved their shoes in contempt.

The Egyptian president's uncompromising stand came a night after thousands of his supporters and opponents fought pitched battles outside his Cairo palace, leaving at least six dead and 700 injured.

Speaking in a nationally televised address, Morsi accused some in the opposition of serving remnants of Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime and vowed he would never tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his "legitimate'' government.

That brought shouts of "the people want to topple the regime!'' from the crowd of 30,000 Morsi opponents _ the same chant used in the protests that brought down Mubarak.

Morsi also invited the opposition to a "comprehensive and productive'' dialogue starting Saturday at his presidential palace, but gave no sign that he might offer any meaningful concessions.

The opposition has already refused to engage Morsi unless he first rescinds decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelves the draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his Islamist allies in a marathon session last week.

Morsi said the referendum on the disputed charter would go ahead as scheduled on Dec. 15. He also refused to rescind the Nov. 22 decrees.

Reading from prepared notes, Morsi frequently broke off to improvise. He wore a black tie in mourning for the six people killed in Wednesday's clashes.

From Washington, President Barack Obama called Morsi to express "deep concern'' about the deaths and injuries of protesters in Egypt, according to a White House statement.

The statement Thursday night said that Obama told Morsi that he and other political leaders in Egypt must make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable. Obama welcomed Morsi's call for a dialogue with opposition leaders in Egypt but stressed that such a dialogue should occur without preconditions. The United States also has urged opposition leaders to join in talks without preconditions.

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