CAIRO -- Egyptian military leaders on Wednesday said they were suspending the constitution and replacing President Mohamed Morsi with the head of the nation's constitutional court.
Loud cheers broke out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands of anti-government protesters had gathered to wait for the televised announcement. Supporters of Morsi were also out in force at Cairo University and at a mosque in the city's Nasr City district.
Morsi’s whereabouts were not clear. Local media reports said only that he was in “political isolation.”
The military had given Morsi until 5 p.m. (8 a.m. PDT) to form a coalition government or see the generals impose a solution to months of unrest, but the deadline passed without agreement.
In a defiant speech late Tuesday, Morsi rebuffed the military’s ultimatum, saying he would defend the constitution with his life.
"We sacrifice for our country, and I am the first to sacrifice. If the cost of legitimacy is my life, I will pay it gladly," he told the nation.
The military's actions heightened the chances that Egypt could slide into factional bloodshed. Pro- and anti-Morsi protesters clashed through Tuesday night, including fighting at Cairo University, where 16 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
“As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page,” Essam Haddad, an adviser to Morsi, wrote on his Facebook page. “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: military coup.”
Hassieb is a special correspondent