Demonstrators rejected the Egyptian president's call for a national dialogue after deadly clashes and called for more demonstrations on Friday.
CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi offered nothing concrete to defuse the country's worst political crisis in nearly two years in a nationally televised speech late Thursday, refusing to rescind a disputed constitution drafted by his allies or his decrees giving him near absolute powers.
Demonstrators rejected his call for a national dialogue after deadly clashes around his palace, demanding the "downfall of the regime" - the chant that brought down Hosni Mubarak. The "April 6" movement, which played a prominent role in igniting the revolt against Mubarak, called on its Facebook page for more protests on Friday.
Egypt has been plunged into turmoil since Morsi issued a decree on Nov. 22 awarding himself wide powers and shielding his decisions from judicial review. His Islamist supporters say the decree was necessary to prevent Mubarak-era judges from interfering with reforms. A constitution drawn up by a body dominated by Islamists is due to be put to a referendum next week.
A night after thousands of his supporters and opponents fought pitched battles outside his Cairo palace that left at least six dead and nearly 700 injured, Morsi angrily accused some of the opposition protesters of serving remnants of the old regime. He vowed never to tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his government.
Some among the thousands of opposition protesters gathered near his palace raised their shoes in contempt as they listened to him. Others broke into the iconic Arab Spring chant of "the people want to topple the regime."
Morsi also invited the opposition to a "comprehensive and productive" dialogue starting Saturday at his presidential palace, but offered no sign at all that he might offer them any concessions. The opposition has said it would not enter a dialogue with Morsi unless he first rescinds decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelves the constitution draft hurriedly adopted by his Islamist allies.
He said the referendum on the disputed charter, at the heart of the crisis, will go ahead as scheduled on Dec. 15 despite opposition demands to shelve the document.
Morsi also refused to rescind his decrees of Nov .22 placing him above oversight of any kind, including by the courts, saying only that he was willing to annul one decree that gives him wide ranging powers to "protect" the nation and its revolution. He did not say how he would do that or give any other details.
Morsi, elected in June, was reading from prepared notes but frequently broke off to improvise. He wore a black tie in mourning for six people killed Wednesday in clashes.
On Thursday night, U.S. President Barack Obama said the violence was unacceptable and urged Morsi to talk with opposition leaders.
After days of protests, the Republican Guard ordered rival demonstrators to leave the area around the presidential palace. Morsi's Islamist partisans had fought opposition protesters well into the early hours Thursday during dueling demonstrations over the president's decision last month to expand his powers to help him push through a mostly Islamist-drafted constitution.
The presidency announced that the Republican Guard, whose duties include protecting the palace, had set an 8 a.m. ET deadline for supporters and opponents Morsi to quit an area they had turned into a battleground. The military played a big role in removing President Hosni Mubarak during last year's popular revolt, taking over to manage a transitional period, but had stayed out of the latest crisis until Thursday.
A Reuters witness said some of the hundreds of Morsi supporters who had camped overnight near the palace perimeter had started leaving before the Republican Guard's deadline. The commander of the Guard, which deployed tanks and armored troop carriers to help police pacify the area, said the intention was to separate the adversaries, not to repress them.
"The armed forces, and at the forefront of them the Republican Guard, will not be used as a tool to oppress the demonstrators," Gen. Mohamed Zaki told the state news agency.
After opposing crowds fought long into the night, the streets around the palace were much calmer in the morning, apart from the brief period of rock-throwing between the hundreds of Islamists and dozens of opposition partisans still at the scene.
The United States, worried about the stability of an Arab state that has a peace deal with Israel and receives $1.3 billion in US military aid, has urged dialogue. Britain also called for restraint and an "inclusive" political process.
But Morsi appears to be confident that the Islamists, who have dominated both elections since Mubarak was overthrown, can win the referendum and the parliamentary election to follow.
As well as relying on his Brotherhood power base, Morsi may also draw on a popular yearning for stability and economic revival after almost two years of political turmoil.
The Egyptian pound plunged 4 percent on Thursday to its lowest level in eight years, after previously firming on hopes that a $4.8 billion IMF loan would stabilize the economy. The Egyptian stock market fell 4.4 percent after it opened.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report