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Egypt's army ousts Morsi, who decries 'coup'

CAIRO — Egypt's first democratically elected president was ousted Wednesday by the military after barely a year in office, felled by the same kind of popular revolt that first brought him to power in the Arab Spring.

The armed forces announced it would install a temporary civilian government to replace Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who denounced the action as a "full coup" by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for new elections.

Millions of anti-Morsi protesters in cities around the country erupted in scenes of joy after the televised announcement by the army chief. Fireworks burst over crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where men and women danced, shouting, "God is great" and "Long live Egypt."

Fearing a violent reaction by Morsi's Islamist supporters, the military sent troops and armored vehicles into streets of Cairo and elsewhere, surrounding Islamist rallies.

By the end of the night, Morsi had been taken into custody and blocked from all communications, the New York Times reported. Egyptian security forces had arrested at least 38 senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Saad el-Katatni, the chief of the group's political party, and others were being rounded up as well, the newspaper reported.

The U.S. government, increasingly concerned about instability in Egypt, expressed deep concern and kept the American Embassy in Cairo shuttered for the third consecutive day. The State Department significantly upgraded the warning level of a travel advisory to the country, urging "U.S. citizens living in Egypt to depart at this time because of the continuing political and social unrest."

Clashes erupted in several provincial cities when Islamists opened fire on police, with at least nine killed in the battles, security officials said.

The army's move is the second time in Egypt's 2½ years of turmoil that it has forced out the country's leader. In the first, it pushed out autocrat Hosni Mubarak after the massive uprising against his rule.

Its new move came after a stunning four-day anti-Morsi revolt fueled by public anger that Morsi was giving too much power to his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and had failed to tackle the country's mounting economic woes.

This time, however, its removal of an elected figure could be more explosive. Beyond fears over violence, even some protesters are concerned whether an army-installed administration can lead to real democracy.

In Washington, President Barack Obama urged Egypt's military to "move quickly" to return authority to an elected civilian government. He said he was ordering the U.S. government to assess what the military's actions meant for U.S. foreign aid to Egypt — $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance.

Moments after the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, spoke, Morsi said in a statement on the Egyptian president's office's Twitter account that the military's measures "represent a full coup categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation," while urging "everyone to adhere to peacefulness and avoid shedding blood of fellow countrymen."

The army has insisted it is not carrying out a coup, but acting on the will of the people to clear the way for a new leadership.

In his speech, Gen. el-Sissi said the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, would step in as interim president until new elections are held. A government of technocrats would be formed with "full powers" to run the country.

Mansour, who was appointed to the court by Mubarak but elevated to the chief justice post by Morsi, will be sworn in today by judges of his court.

El-Sissi, the defense minister appointed by Morsi, promised "not to exclude anyone or any movement" from further steps. But he did not define the length of the transition period or when presidential elections would be held. He also did not mention any role for the military.

The constitution, drafted by Morsi's Islamist allies, was "temporarily suspended," and a panel of experts and representatives of all political movements will consider amendments. He did not say whether a referendum would be held to ratify the changes, as customary.

El-Sissi spoke while flanked by the country's top Muslim and Christian clerics as well as pro-reform leader Mohammed ElBaradei and two representatives of Tamarod, or Rebel, the youth opposition movement that engineered the latest wave of protests with a petition campaign that collected more than 22 million signatures of Egyptians who want Morsi to step down.

"I call on all of you to stay in the squares to protect what we have won," one of the two Tamarod members, Mahmoud Badr, said in televised comments.

"I hope this plan is the beginning of a new launch for the Jan. 25 revolution when people offered their dearest to restore their freedom, dignity and social justice for every Egyptian," said ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Laureate and the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Seeking to avert a destabilizing backlash, el-Sissi warned that the armed forces and police will deal "decisively" with violence.

The military also took firm moves on the ground.

After 9:20 p.m., the Brotherhood's TV station went blank. Islamist TV networks that have been accused of inciting violence also went off the air and some of their prominent anchors have been arrested, according to security officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Shortly before el-Sissi went on the air, troops, commandos and armored vehicles deployed in cities around the country. In Cairo, they were stationed on bridges over the Nile River and at major intersections. They also surrounded rallies being held by Morsi's supporters — an apparent move to contain them.

At least 39 people have been killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents since Sunday.

What happened on Wednesday?

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, 58, general commander of Egypt's armed forces, declared:

• Constitution had been suspended

• Chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, will assume presidential powers

• Mansour will oversee an interim period with a technocratic government until presidential and parliamentary elections are held

• The country's highest Islamic authority, the head of the Coptic Church and the leading opposition figure gave their approval

Egypt's army ousts Morsi, who decries 'coup' 07/03/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 11:54pm]
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