The Egyptian armed forces have given the government two days to reach an agreement with protesters, who want President Mohammed Morsi to resign. The news came shortly after several cabinet members stepped down.
In a statement read on Egyptian state television Monday, the country's military called on the president and his government to reach a compromise with protest organizers, who have vowed to increase the already unprecedented demonstrations if he remains in power.
The Egyptian armed forces called on the government to meet "the demands of the people" within 48 hours, "as a last chance to take responsibility for the historic circumstances the country is going through," according to the statement.
If the government failed to comply with the military's request, armed forces officials would "announce a future roadmap and measures to oversee its implementation."
The announcement came in response to pleas from government opponents, who had asked the country's influential military to intervene on its behalf.
There was no immediate response from the president's office.
Shortly before the televised statement, US President Barack Obama called on both parties to "show restraint" and on the government, in particular, to begin talks with its opponents. However, the US president refrained from taking a position on President Morsi's future role. The comments came during a press conference in Tanzania, where Obama began the last leg of his Africa tour on Monday.
President Obama also drew attention to the treatment of women during the nationwide uprising.
"For those who are participating in these protests or marches, assaulting women does not qualify as peaceful protests," he said.
Government begins to unravel
At least four cabinet members tendered their resignation on Monday following demonstrations over the weekend which had culminated in the ransacking and burning of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo.
The heads of communications, environment, legal affairs and tourism relinquished their offices, according to Egyptian state media on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Tamarod - the protest organizer group whose name means "rebel" in Arabic - issued an ultimatum for Morsi, the country's first freely elected president, to resign by Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. local time (1500 GMT). If he failed to do so, the group would begin a "complete civil disobedience campaign."
Tamarod has driven most of the opposition protests across Egypt including Sunday's rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, demanding that Morsi step down on the first anniversary of his inauguration as president.
Critics accuse Morsi of ignoring the goals of the revolution that toppled ex-President Hosni Mubarak, cracking down on dissent and imposing Islamist values. Protest organizers claimed to have collected 22 million signatures over the weekend calling for the president to leave office and pave the way for new elections.
The public outcry against the government has remained largely peaceful. However, health ministry officials reported at least 16 fatalities on Sunday resulting from clashes between Morsi opponents and supporters.
Morsi has said he will not step down and that street protests cannot overrule the results of a free election.
kms/mz (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)