CAIRO -- With the clock ticking, Egypt's embattled president said last night he will not step down as demanded by millions of protesters, vowing to protect his "constitutional legitimacy" with his life.
In a live speech on state television, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi accused loyalists of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, of riding the current wave of protests to topple his regime.
"There is no substitute for legitimacy," said Morsi, who has received an ultimatum from the military to work out his differences with the opposition by Wednesday or it will intervene to oversee the implementation of its own political road map.
Morsi's defiance sets up a major confrontation between his supporters and Egyptians angry over what they see as his efforts to impose control by his Muslim Brotherhood. The protesters are angry, too, about his failure to introduce reforms, more than two years after the revolution that ousted Mubarak.
In Washington, fearing a political-military implosion that could throw its most important Arab ally into chaos, the Obama administration has abandoned its hands-off approach. The United States delivered pointed warnings to Morsi, the protesters and the powerful Egyptian military.
U.S. officials said yesterday they are urging Morsi to take immediate steps to address opposition grievances, telling the protesters to remain peaceful and reminding the army that a coup could have consequences for the huge military aid package it receives.
With tensions high, at least seven people were killed in clashes between Morsi's supporters and opponents in Cairo, according to hospital and security officials. The violence raised the overall death toll to 23 since Sunday, when a mass protest was held to mark the anniversary of Morsi's inauguration.
Protesters turned yesterday to a new target, massing a giant crowd outside Cairo's Qasr el-Qobba presidential palace, where Morsi has been working in recent days in addition to filling wide avenues outside another palace, central Tahrir Square and main squares in cities nationwide.
Morsi's supporters also increased their presence in the streets, after his Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Islamist leaders called them out to defend what they say is the legitimacy of the country's first freely elected president.
The president's Islamist backers have stepped up warnings that it will take bloodshed to dislodge him, saying they would rather die fighting a military takeover than accept Morsi's ouster just a year after the country's first free election.