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Death toll mounts in Egypt as Morsi millitary deadline nears

Several people have been killed in protests in Egypt as the deadline nears for President Morsi to respond to a military ultimatum. It has demanded that Morsi strike a deal with opponents or face an army intervention.

Clashes erupted in several protest areas across Egypt on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of Morsi supporters and opponents hit the streets for the third consecutive day.

Medics said seven people were killed and dozens injured when gun battles and street fighting broke out between rival civilian factions in at least three areas of Giza province on the outskirts of Cairo.

Dozens were also reportedly injured in clashes in the northern city of Alexandria and southern city of Luxor.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands remain inside Cairo's Tahrir Square and have surrounded two presidential palaces, demanding President Mohammed Morsi's immediate resignation. Opponents accuse Egypt's first democratically elected president of serving the interests of his allies and failing to address lingering social and economic problems.

Military outlines ultimatum

For Morsi, the clock is ticking a day after the military chief-of-staff General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned he had until 5 p.m. local time (1500 UTC) on Wednesday to respond to the "people's demands" or face an imposed solution.

The military elaborated further on that threat on Tuesday, saying it had drawn up a roadmap for Egypt's future.

According to the nation's state news agency, the army has said it is prepared to suspend the Islamist-backed constitution, dissolve the legislature and set up an interim administration headed by the country's chief justice if Morsi fails to reach a political solution. That would be followed by fresh presidential elections, the report said.

Morsi remains defiant, however, and has not indicated an intention to step down. The president's spokesman criticized the military's action early Tuesday, saying in a statement that Morsi was not consulted.

"The presidency asserts it is moving forward with its plan for national reconciliation ... regardless of any statements that will deepen the divide between the nation and could threaten the society's peace," the statement from Morsi's office said.

Senior leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood party have branded the military ultimatum a "coup," claims which the army has denied.

"The ideology and culture of the Egyptian armed forces does not allow for the policy of a military coup," the military said on its Facebook page hours after its Monday statement.

International alarm

With the death toll in Egypt mounting, Morsi has reportedly been locked in talks with al-Sisi for two consecutive days following major protest action on Sunday which saw millions take to the streets.

More than 20 people have reportedly died during protest action since Sunday and at least six ministers, including the foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, have resigned.

With international alarm growing, the White House issued a statement saying US President Barack Obama had telephoned Morsi to urge him to respond to his detractors. According to the statement, Obama made clear that a solution to Egypt's political strife could only be achieved through talks.

The US president "told President Morsi that the United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group," the White House said.

Meanwhile Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has urged all sides not to squander democratic progress resulting from Egypt's 2011 revolution.

"These are decisive days for the political transformation in this key country of the Arab world," Westerwelle said.

ccp/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)