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Egypt's Morsi offers nothing to defuse crisis

In a speech following a night of violent protests, Egyptian President Morsi invited opposition leaders to begin a dialogue on Saturday. However, he did not give any indication that he is prepared to make concessions to his opponents. 

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Earlier Thursday, Morsi's troubles grew when another of his advisers quit to protest his handling of the crisis, raising to seven the number of those in his 17-person inner circle who have abandoned him. The only Christian in a group of four presidential assistants has also quit.

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Violence persisted into the night, with a group of protesters attacking the Cairo headquarters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, ransacking the ground floor. Another group of protesters attacked the Brotherhood's offices in the Cairo district of Maadi. Outside the president's house in his hometown of Zagazig, 50 miles north of Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, security officials said.

During his speech, Morsi repeated earlier assertions that a conspiracy against the state was behind his move to assume near unrestricted powers, but he did not reveal any details of the plot.

"It is my duty ... to protect institutions of the nation," he said. "I will always fulfill this role, no matter how much pressure or what the situation."

Opposition protesters jeered and raised their shoes in contempt.

"We have two simple demands: Cancel the decrees and change the draft constitution. Other than that he can just go away," shouted one protester, Osama El-Sayyed.

"I have no hope in this man" shouted another as thousands chanted "Erhal! Erhal!" — "Leave! Leave!" in Arabic.

Later, a photograph of Morsi giving his speech was circulated on social networking sites alongside one of Mubarak addressing the nation during the 18-day uprising that toppled his 29-year rule in February 2011. Both wore black ties and dark suits.

The opposition issued a statement rejecting Morsi's offer of a dialogue, and spokesman Hussein Abdel-Ghani dismissed Morsi's address.

"Tonight, he proved that he is not a president for all Egyptians, but merely the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in the presidency," Abdel-Ghani said on state television.

Earlier Thursday, the Egyptian army and elite Republican Guard sealed off the presidential palace with tanks and barbed wire, following the worst night of violence of the two-week crisis.

Responding to a call to "protect" the presidential palace, thousands of Brotherhood members and other Islamists descended on the area Wednesday, beating and chasing away some 300 opposition protesters who had been staging a peaceful sit-in there. Hours of street battles followed.

"We raise Egypt's flag but they raise the Brotherhood flag. This is the difference," Cairo protester Magdi Farag said as he held the tri-colored national flag stained with blood from his friend's injury in the clashes.

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