Middle East

Egypt rivals take to streets ahead of Morsi deadline

Media captionMartyrdom on their minds: Young Egyptian men wave death shrouds, as the BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports

Opponents and supporters of Egypt's president have gathered in the capital, Cairo, as the deadline set by a protest group for him to leave power passed.

Tamarod (Revolt) had given Mohammed Morsi until 17:00 (15:00 GMT) to resign or face a civil disobedience campaign.

The ultimatum was issued on Monday, hours before the military itself warned it would intervene unless he reached an agreement with the opposition.

Mr Morsi criticised the statement, saying it "might cause confusion".

The president met the head of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for the second day in a row on Tuesday. They did not give any details of the talks, which also included Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.

Mr Morsi was put under further pressure by the resignation of six ministers from his government on Monday, including Foreign Minister Kamel Amr.

On Tuesday, the spokesmen for the presidency and the cabinet were also reported to have quit.

Image caption As the Tamarod deadline approached, thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square

And the UN high commissioner for human rights called on the president to engage in a "serious national dialogue" to end the political crisis, and said nothing should be done to undermine the democratic process.

Egypt's top appeals court also upheld the dismissal of the prosecutor general appointed by Mr Morsi, who had been criticised by the opposition.

'Road map'

As the Tamarod deadline approached, thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in central Cairo on Tuesday afternoon to demand Mr Morsi step down.

Waving flags, the crowds chanted slogans including: "The people have brought down the regime." When several military helicopters flew ahead, they erupted in cheers.

Opposition supporters also reportedly gathered outside the Ittahidiya and Quba presidential palaces, to the north-east, where protesters have been camped out.

Backers of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have also been out on the streets, gathering outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo's Nasr district.

The Brotherhood's political group, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), is part of the alliance of Islamist parties calling on Egyptians to "go and defend their democracy and their right for freedom," according to spokesperson Murad Ali.

One senior FJP official, Mohammed al-Beltagi, took to the party's Facebook page on Tuesday to say that "preventing this coup may call for martyrdom".

The opposition described the comments as "inflammatory" and said they did not want "any Egyptian to die as a result of political infighting". At least seven people are believed to have died in the latest protests.

Nationwide protests on Sunday - a year after the president took office - which were organised by Tamarod brought millions of people out onto the streets.

The group also claims to have collected more than 22 million signatures for a petition that criticises Mr Morsi for failing to revive the economy and restore security.

It welcomed the military's statement, which warned the president to satisfy the public's demands within 48 hours or see the generals impose their own "road map".

Tamarod spokesman Mahmoud Badr told reporters that the military had "sided with the people" and that it would "mean early presidential elections".

According to unconfirmed reports from the Reuters news agency, the armed forces have said they would suspend the constitution and dissolve parliament if President Morsi and his opponents fail to reach a power-sharing agreement by Wednesday.

Media captionFreedom and Justice Party spokesperson Alaa Mustafa: "The president has already said the only way to get out of this problem is a national dialogue"

The agency quoted unnamed military sources as saying they intended to install an interim council, composed mainly of civilians from different political groups and experienced technocrats, to run the country until an amended constitution was drafted within months.

The details of the plan, which would be dependent on political developments and consultations, were still reported to be under discussion.

The military's threat to intervene was criticised in a statement issued by the presidency early on Tuesday, which said Mr Morsi was continuing with plans for dialogue and reconciliation.

Mr Morsi's office said it had not been consulted by the generals and that "some of its phrases have connotations that may cause confusion in the complicated national scene" and "threaten the social peace no matter what the motivation".

The group also said rallies were being held in Marsa Matruh, Beni Suef, Kafr al-Sheikh, and stressed that it disavowed bloodshed and warned against any attack on the opposition.

The main opposition alliance, the National Salvation Front (NSF) also issued a statement saying that it did "not support a military coup".

"We trust the army's declaration, reflected in their statement, that they don't want to get involved in politics, or play a political role," it added.

Footage broadcast on Arabic TV channel al-Jazeera on Tuesday showed Egyptian troops training for unarmed combat in the streets of the Red Sea city of Suez.

Security sources in the area told Reuters that forces from the locally-based Third Field Army had strengthened their presence in the city overnight after clashes.

Israel's military also announced that Egypt had moved forces into the border area near the Gaza Strip in a co-ordinated measure. Amid the unrest sweeping the country, the Egyptian army is reported to have moved several dozen armoured vehicles to the border area to contain militant activity.