Egypt's military has warned the government and opposition that it will not permit events to take a "disastrous" turn. The statement came one day after 10,000 protesters swarmed President Mohammed Morsi’s Cairo palace.
Neither Islamists nor the opposition gave immediate signs of compliance with the plea. Two weeks of protests have led to bloody clashes that have killed seven and wounded hundreds, prompting the army to deploy troops and tanks.
"The path of dialogue is the best and only way to reach agreement and achieve the interests of the nation and its citizens," the statement read. "The opposite of that will take us into a dark tunnel with disastrous results - and that is something we will not allow."
The statement did not mention Morsi, but said a solution should not contradict "legitimacy and the rules of democracy."
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have found themselves pitted against the secular opposition alarmed at the expanded powers the president gave himself and his efforts to push through a new, heavily religious constitution.
Islamist parties, including the political wing of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, rejected opposition demands to delay next Saturday's referendum on the constitution they helped draft.
Vice President Mahmud Mekki had said that Morsi "could accept to delay the referendum," but only if the opposition guaranteed it would not exploit the legal breach triggered by pushing it back.
The National Salvation Front coalition considers postponement non-negotiable. The coalition has also demanded that Morsi give up his judicial immunity.
On Saturday, hundreds gathered in front of Morsi's presidential palace. The demonstration drew 10,000 people who clambered atop tanks to call loudly for Morsi to step down before they peacefully dispersed hours later.
Protesters spray-painted "Down with Morsi" on tanks. Others draped the tanks with posters of Morsi and the word "Leave" across his face in red letters.
In a televised speech on Thursday, Morsi offered to meet with the opposition, though it was not clear whether he would offer any concessions. However, the National Salvation Front has not bent on the question of his new powers and delaying the referendum.
mkg/jlw (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)