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Egyptians celebrate President's toppling

Jason Koutsoukis reports from Cairo where thousands of anti-Mursi demonstrators are celebrating the military overthrow of the Islamist Egyptian President.

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Egypt’s military has ousted the nation’s Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, replacing him with a chief justice, calling for an early presidential election and suspending the Islamist-backed constitution.

Let's call what's happening by its real name: Military coup 

The decision was greeted with jubilation in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands of opponents to Dr Mursi had been calling for his toppling for days.

Egyptians celebrate at a tea house at Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's announcement in Cairo's Zamalek district Wednesday, July 3, 2013.

Egyptians celebrate at a tea house in Cairo. Photo: AP

Elsewhere, clashes between security forces and supporters of Dr Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood party had left at least 14 people dead and dozens wounded.

Dr Mursi is being held by the authorities, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman and a security official said.

Ahmed Aref, the Brotherhood spokesman, said both Dr Mursi and Essam El-Haddad, a senior aide, were being held but he did not know where.

Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi addressing the nation on Egyptian State Television Wednesday, July 3, 2013.

Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi addresses the nation on Egyptian State Television. Photo: AP

A security official said they were being held at a military intelligence facility.

At least two senior leaders close to Dr Mursi have also been arrested - Freedom and Justice Party Saad al-Katatni and the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood Rashad Bayoumi. 

The army issued orders for the arrest of another 300 Islamists.

Army soldiers react as they take their positions in front of protesters who are against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, near the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo July 3, 2013.

Troops near the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo. Photo: Reuters

Security forces had also moved to shut down pro-Mursi television broadcasts and arrested staff from Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera's Egyptian bureau.

Al-Jazeera, though, continues to send news via its Twitter social media account, AJELive, stating that security forces are about to move on supporters of the ousted president:

Protesters set-off fireworks as they gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Protesters set-off fireworks as they gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo: Reuters

Egypt’s new caretaker president Adly Mansour will be sworn on Thursday.

Mr Mansour had been head of the Supreme Constitutional Court for just two days when the army named him leader of the Arab world’s most populous state.

Ironically he was named by Dr Mursi himself to Egypt’s top judicial post. The 67-year-old father of three, who won a scholarship to France’s most prestigious institute of higher education, the Ecole Nationale de l’Administration, was a long-serving judge under the regime of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

A military helicopter files over the presidential palace as opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi protest in Cairo, Egypt.

A military helicopter files over the presidential palace in Cairo. Photo: AP

General Sisi called for presidential and parliamentary elections, a panel to review the constitution and a national reconciliation committee that would include youth movements. He said the roadmap had been agreed by a range of political groups.

According to the official MENA news agency, the roadmap is to consist of a ‘‘short’’ transition period followed by both presidential and parliamentary elections.

US president Barack Obama expressed deep concern about the Egyptian military's removal of Dr Mursi but stopped short of condemning a move that could lead to a cut-off in US aid.

Shown the red card: A protester makes his point outside the presidential palace in Cairo.

Shown the red card: A protester makes his point outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Photo: AFP

Mr Obama issued a written statement responding to dramatic events in Cairo after huddling with his top national security advisers at the White House. The session took place shortly after the Egyptian military made its move.

Mr Obama stopped short of an outright condemnation of the intervention, which came amid growing concern among US officials over Dr Mursi's leadership.

"The United States is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt, and we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Mursi and suspend the Egyptian constitution," Mr Obama said.

Fireworks light the sky moments after Egypt's military chief announced President Mohamed Mursi would be replaced by chief justice of constitutional court outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Click for more photos

Egyptian president removed from power

Fireworks light the sky moments after Egypt's military chief announced President Mohamed Mursi would be replaced by chief justice of constitutional court outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Photo: AP Photo/Nariman El-Moft

  • Fireworks light the sky moments after Egypt's military chief announced President Mohamed Mursi would be replaced by chief justice of constitutional court outside the presidential palace in Cairo.
  • Celebrations in Tahrir Square after the Egyptian armed forces removed President Mohamed Mursi from power.
  • Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi addresses the nation on Egyptian State Television, announcing President Mohamed Mursi would be replaced.
  • Egyptians celebrate at a tea house after President Mohammed Morsi was removed from power.
  • Celebrations in front of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo after President Mursi was removed from power.
  • Celebrations in Tahrir Square after the Egyptian armed forces removed President Mohamed Mursi from power.
  • Fireworks and shouts of joy emanate from Tahrir Square after a broadcast by the head of the Egyptian military confirming that they will temporarily be taking over from the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Mursi.

If the military move is deemed to be a coup, the United States would be obligated to cut off US military assistance to Egypt. Mr Obama said the move is being reviewed by US agencies to determine the implications to US aid.

The European Union called for a rapid return to democracy in Egypt.

"I urge all sides to rapidly return to the democratic process, including the holding of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections and the approval of a constitution, to be done in a fully inclusive manner, so as to permit the country to resume and complete its democratic transition," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Fireworks are seen as army soldiers take their positions in front of protesters who are against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, near the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo July 3, 2013.

Fireworks are seen as army soldiers take their positions in front of protesters. Photo: Reuters

Travel advice

The US has ordered non-essential diplomats to leave Egypt because of the risk of violence. Australia's foreign minister Bob Carr told ABC Radio: "We have no plans to close our embassy" in Egypt.

Mr Carr also called for restraint, while describing Dr Mursi's removal as "deeply disappointing".

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's advice for prospective visitors to the country is to "reconsider your need to travel to Egypt", according to its latest update.

DFAT says 730 Australians are registered as currently being in Egypt, although the actual number may be much higher. Some 822 Australians have registered plans to travel to the country in coming weeks.

‘‘We continue to urge Australians to avoid all demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent and closely monitor media for information on events and developments that may affect their security and safety,’’ a DFAT spokesman said. 

Defiance

Dr Mursi, who has reportedly been barred from leaving the country, was defiant in an amateur video recording posted on the internet, insisting he remains Egypt’s president just one year after his election.

‘‘I am the elected president of Egypt,’’ the Islamist politician said in the video uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday.

‘‘It is now demanded of the people to defend this legitimacy and ... for legitimacy to be constitutional,’’ he added in reference to his election a year ago and a constitutional referendum in December.

The resort to YouTube followed the halting of broadcasts by a pro-Mursi television station, with its managers arrested hours after Dr Mursi's toppling.

The Egypt25 channel had been broadcasting live coverage of rallies by tens of thousands of pro-Mursi demonstrators in Cairo and around the country, with speeches by leading Brotherhood politicians denouncing the military intervention to oust the elected president.

At least five staff at Al-Jazeera’s Egypt affiliate, Al-Jazeera Mubashir, were also arrested by security forces after the channel aired a speech by Dr Mursi.

Karim El-Assiuti, an Al-Jazeera journalist, said the station was prevented from broadcasting from a pro-Mursi rally and its crew there was also detained.

Ayman Mohyeldin, a journalist with NBC said in a posting to Twitter that his office had been stormed by men looking for Al-Jazeera reporters.

The Egyptian arm of the Qatari-owned media company began broadcasting after the 2011 uprising that topped President Hosni Mubarak and has been accused by critics of being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Clashes

Opponents and supporters of Egypt's deposed president clashed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, following Dr Mursi's removal. Gunfire was heard as rocks and bricks flew, said witnesses, with at least one person killed.

"We are dealing with the situation ... We have called for security reinforcements in the area," said senior police officer Sherif Abdelhamid.

Elsewhere, four people were killed in clashes between supporters of Dr Morsi and security forces in the northern city of Marsa Matrouh after the Islamist president's ouster.

State governor Badr Tantawi told Reuters by telephone from the Mediterranean city close to the Libyan border that the dead were Mursi supporters.

Three people were also killed in the southern Egyptian city of Minya, including two police, state-run MENA said. It said 14 people were wounded.

Dozens more were wounded in Fayoum, south of Cairo, where unidentified assailants broke into the local offices of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing, MENA said.

The attackers looted the headquarters and set them on fire, it said.

Deadline ends

The developments followed the lapse of a 48-hour deadline (at 12.30am Thursday, eastern Australian time) imposed by the military generals on the increasingly isolated president to meet the demands of millions of Egyptians disaffected with the one-year-old governance of Dr Mursi, the first democratically elected leader of Egypt.

By 6.30pm military forces began moving around Cairo. Tanks and troops headed for the presidential palace - although it was unclear whether Dr Mursi was inside - while other soldiers ringed the nearby square where tens of thousands of the president’s supporters were rallying.

Many of the Islamists had armed themselves with makeshift clubs, shields made of pot covers or metal scraps and plastic hard hats, and there were small scuffles with the better-armed soldiers.

Some soldiers fired their weapons in the air. But the military forces held back.

Soldiers also were seen erecting barbed-wire fences and barriers around a barracks where Dr Mursi may have been working, Reuters reported, quoting witnesses.

Earlier, Dr Mursi’s senior foreign policy adviser, Essam el-Haddad, issued an open letter on Wednesday on his official web page lamenting what he called the imminent takeover of Egypt’s first freely elected government.

''For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let's call what is happening by its real name: Military coup,'' Mr Haddad, Dr Mursi's national security adviser, said in a statement on Facebook.

As tensions mounted and crowds poured into the streets to demand Dr Mursi's resignation, Mr Haddad said: ''As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page.''

Mursi banned from leaving

Airport officials confirmed to AFP that they had received orders to prevent the leaders — including Dr Mursi, Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shater — from travelling abroad.

As reports came in that the military was deploying dozens of armoured vehicles near Islamist gatherings elsewhere in the capital, the anti-Mursi protesters frantically waved Egyptian flags in and around Tahrir Square.

‘‘Egypt, Egypt’’ and ‘‘Leave, Leave,’’ they chanted outside the defence ministry building.

With broad grins, they sang patriotic songs they have become accustomed to hearing as the same tunes have been pumped out on state television in the weeks leading up to the crisis.

‘‘Mursi deserves his end. He was the president of the Muslim Brotherhood, not of Egypt,’’ said Cairo resident Amr Mohammed, who carried his 40-day-old daughter in his arms as he marched to the Ittihadiya presidential palace.

A group of housewives put a table in the street and handed out dates and free cups of water, as celebrations erupted when a television station reported that Dr Mursi had been placed under house arrest.

Celebration in streets

Upon hearing the rumour, one elderly man kneeled down on an Egyptian flag and said ‘‘Allahu Akbar’’ (God is greatest).

Abdel Khalek Abo Risha, 56, who come to the protest from Tanta city in the Nile Delta, said: ‘‘I only expect Mursi to be toppled. No other options’’.

Nehal Serry, a woman who helped to organise the refreshments, said: ‘‘This is for the sake of Egypt. We are celebrating that we are getting rid of Mursi’’.

Tens of thousands of people massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for an anti-Mursi protest that dwarfed a rally by the embattled president’s supporters across town in Nasr City.

The thousands of people gathered in a show of support for Dr Mursi despite an attack by a group of men that killed 16 of them and left 200 injured overnight.

Mursi supporters

However, that was before the military moved in to disperse them, with AFP correspondents reporting that they had seen dozens of armoured personnel carriers ominously heading to Islamist gatherings at Cairo University, Heliopolis, and Nasr City.

Before his removal, Dr Mursi had made a last-ditch bid to retain power with a call for an interim coalition government just before the expiry of a military deadline that could drive him from office.

‘‘The presidency adopts a clear and safe road map that is based on the constitutional legitimacy that Egyptians built together,’’ his office said in an e-mailed statement. ‘‘This is our way to go forward so that the Egyptians can have their say through the ballot box’’ in parliamentary elections.

The Islamist leader’s comments signaled renewed rejection of protesters’ calls to step down after he vowed in a late-night television address last night to defend ‘‘legitimacy’’ with his life.

US diplomats leave

The US State Department, meanwhile, has ordered non-essential US diplomats and the families of all American embassy personnel to leave Egypt in anticipation of potential violence.

A US official said the State Department had placed the US embassy in Cairo on ‘‘ordered departure’’ status for non-emergency staff and dependents all employees.

It’s not immediately clear if an evacuation operation would be mounted.

Clashes between Mursi supporters and opponents intensified as the military's deadline neared, with at least 23 people killed, according to state-run media.

"If the price of safeguarding legitimacy is my own blood, I am ready to sacrifice it," Dr Mursi said in an earlier speech broadcast on state television. "There is no alternative to constitutional legitimacy."

AFP, AP, Reuters, New York Times, AAP