07/03/2013, 00.00
EGYPT
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As military ultimatum expires, millions of Egyptians pour into the streets

Soldiers take up position at the headquarters of national TV. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces holds talks with government delegates and protesters, boycotted for the time being by the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya abandons the president.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is holding crisis talks with members of the Islamist government and representatives of the opposition and demonstrators. At present, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies do not want to give in to pressure the military. The ultimatum given by the military to President Mohamed Morsi and the country's political parties came and went at 4.30 pm local time. In a symbolic move, soldiers have already occupied the headquarters of the national TV, where in a few hours Colonel General Abdel Fattah Sisi, Commander-In-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces and Defence Minister, will speak to the nation. Sources told AsiaNews that the atmosphere in the country is one tension, anticipation, and fear of possible violence. The Armed Forces, which officially back the demonstrators, have deployed tanks and armoured vehicles at sensitive locations across the capital, like the presidential palace in Heliopolis, the Ministry of Defence, and the seat of the Constituent Assembly.

Like on 11 February 2011, the day Mubarak resigned, nearly a million people have thronged Tahrir Square and other symbolic landmarks of the revolution, waiting for the address by the head of the Armed Forces. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of members of the National Alliance, an Islamist group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, are demonstrating in favour of the president's legitimacy. So far, there were no clashes.

Today, in several interviews the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the Freedom and Justice Party reiterated that President Morsi is not going to give in to threats but added that he is ready to talk to the opposition.

However, the defection of ministers and political allies is undermining the president's self-assured position. In a statement released this morning, the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya said that it did not share the president's stance, urging him instead to step down and call immediate presidential elections.

Fr Rafic Greiche, a spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, noted that as long as Islamists hold to their intransigent positions there is a risk of violence. Given the level of tensions, this could start a civil war.

"People do not want dialogue," he said. "They want to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to give up power". They are united in wanting the country's sovereignty restored. "A civil war," he explained, "generally occurs between two factions. Here, however, we are faced with an entire people against an extremist minority that does not want to leave power."

He noted however that the West, especially Europe and the United States, could contribute to Egypt's violent collapse.

Yesterday, EU Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton again called on the parties to engage in dialogue. However, according to Fr Greiche such a dialogue would pit 85 per cent of the people against a minority of 15 per cent or less.

Even US President Barack Obama, on a visit to Tanzania, chose a low profile, urging the parties to find a peaceful solution, stressing that aid from the United States is based on the government's respect for democracy.

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