CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military moved to tighten its control on key institutions Wednesday, even putting officers in the newsroom of state TV, in preparation for an almost certain push to remove the country's Islamist president when an afternoon ultimatum expires.
Mohammed Morsi, sworn in a year ago as Egypt's first freely elected president, has vowed not to step down in the face of millions of protesters in the streets in the biggest anti-government rallies the country has seen.
His Islamist supporters have vowed to resist what they call a coup against democracy, and have also taken to the streets by the tens of thousands. At least 39 people have been killed in clashes since Sunday, raising fears the crisis could further explode into violence
The clock was ticking on the military's deadline, expiring around 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. (1400-1500 GMT, 10 a.m.-11 a.m. EDT).
The military beefed up its presence inside the mammoth headquarters of state television on the banks of the Nile River in central Cairo. Crack troops were deployed in news-production areas. Officers from the army's media department moved inside the newsroom and were monitoring output, though not yet interfering, staffers said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the arrangements.
The state TV is run by the information minister, a Muslim Brotherhood member put in the post by Morsi, and its coverage had largely been in favor of the government. But already in the past two days, the coverage saw a marked shift, with more balanced reporting showing the anti-Morsi protests along with pro-Morsi ones. State radio has seen a similar shift.
The authoritative, state-run Al-Ahram newspaper — which also seemed to be following a military line — reported that the military had placed several leaders of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood under surveillance and issued a foreign travel ban on the Islamist group's top leaders.
The head of the army, Defense Minsiter Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, held a group meeting with leading reform advocate Mohammed ElBaradei, Egypt's top Muslim cleric — Al-Azhar Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb — and Coptic Pope Tawadros II to discuss its political road map, a spokesman for the senior opposition National Democratic Front, Khaled Daoud, said on state TV.
Also attending the meeting were a representative of the new youth movement behind this week's protests and some members of the ultraconservative Salafi movements, a defense ministry official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Under a plan leaked to state media, the military would install a new interim leadership, the Islamist-backed constitution suspended and the Islamist-dominated parliament dissolved.
Even as the clock ticked down toward the military's deadline, Morsi has remained defiant. In a speech late Tuesday night, he vowed not to step down and pledged to defend his legitimacy with his life in the face of the massive street protests.
At least 39 people have died since the protests began on Sunday.
The looming showdown follows a night of deadly clashes in Cairo and elsewhere in the country that left at least 23 people dead, most in a single incident near the main Cairo University campus.
The bloodshed, coupled with Morsi's defiant speech, contributed the sense that both sides are ready to fight to the end.
With his political fate hanging in the balance, Morsi demanded in a posting on his official Twitter account late Tuesday that the powerful armed forces withdraw their ultimatum, saying he rejected all "dictates" — from home or abroad. The army said if no agreement is reached between Morsi and the opposition it would intervene to implement a political road map of its own.
In his emotional, 46-minute address aired live to the nation late Tuesday, the Islamist leader accused loyalists of his ousted autocratic predecessor Hosni Mubarak of exploiting the wave of protests to topple his regime and thwart democracy.
"There is no substitute for legitimacy," said Morsi, at times angrily raising his voice, thrusting his fist in the air and pounding the podium. He warned that electoral and constitutional legitimacy "is the only guarantee against violence."
The statement showed that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood are prepared to run the risk of challenging the army. It also entrenches the lines of confrontation between his Islamist supporters and Egyptians angry over what they see as his efforts to impose control through the Brotherhood and his failures to deal with the country's multiple problems.
The Interior Ministry, in charge of the police, piled up the pressure on Morsi on Wednesday. It pledged in a statement to stand by and protect the protesters against violence.
As anti- and pro-Morsi supporters geared up for the fourth consecutive day of mass rallies Wednesday, it was clear that Egypt's crisis has become a struggle over whether a popular uprising can overturn the verdict of the ballot box.
Mahmoud Badr, spokesman for Tamarod, or Rebel — the youth movement behind the latest wave of protests — called on anti-Morsi protesters to demonstrate outside three presidential palaces as well as the Cairo headquarters of the Republican Guard, an army branch tasked with protecting the president, his family and presidential palaces. Morsi is thought to have been working at the Republican Guard headquarters since the start of the protests.
Badr also called on the army to place Morsi under arrest for his alleged incitement to civil war.
"Today is the day of decisiveness," Badr said at a news conference Wednesday.
Morsi's opponents say he has lost his legitimacy through mistakes and power grabs and that their turnout on the streets over the past three days shows the nation has turned against him.
On Tuesday, millions of jubilant, chanting Morsi opponents again filled Cairo's historic Tahrir Square, as well as avenues adjacent to two presidential palaces in the capital, and main squares in cities nationwide. After Morsi's speech, they erupted in indignation, banging metal fences to raise a din, some raising their shoes in the air in a show of contempt. "Leave, leave," they chanted.
The president's supporters also moved out in increased marches in Cairo and other cities, and stepped up warnings that it will take bloodshed to dislodge him. While Morsi has stuck to a stance that he is defending democracy in Egypt, many of his Islamist backers have presented the fight as one to protect Islam.
On Monday, the military gave Morsi an ultimatum to meet the protesters' demands within 48 hours. If not, the generals' plan would suspend the Islamist-backed constitution, dissolve the Islamist-dominated legislature and set up an interim administration headed by the country's chief justice, the state news agency reported.
The leaking of the military's so-called political "road map" appeared aimed at adding pressure on Morsi by showing the public and the international community that the military has a plan that does not involve a coup.
Fearing that Washington's most important Arab ally would descend into chaos, U.S. officials said they are urging Morsi to take immediate steps to address opposition grievances, telling the protesters to remain peaceful and reminding the army that a coup could have consequences for the massive American military aid package it receives. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Morsi's adviser Ayman Ali denied that the U.S. asked Egypt to call early presidential elections and said consultations were continuing to reach national conciliation and resolve the crisis. He did not elaborate.
The army has insisted it has no intention to take power. But the reported road map showed it was ready to replace Morsi and make a sweeping change in the ramshackle political structure that has evolved since Mubarak's fall in February 2011.
The constitution and domination of the legislature after elections held in late 2011-early 2012 are two of the Islamists' and Brotherhood's most valued victories — along with Morsi's election last year.
PARIS (AP) — Bolivia's president left Europe for home on Wednesday amid diplomatic drama after his flight was rerouted and delayed overnight in Austria, allegedly because of suspicion he was trying to spirit NSA leaker Edward Snowden to Latin America.
Bolivia accused the United States of ordering European countries to block President Evo Morales' flight from their airspace, and accused European governments of "aggression" by thwarting the flight.
However it's still unclear whether European countries did block the plane and, if so, why. French, Spanish and Portuguese officials all said Wednesday the plane was allowed to cross their territory.
And Snowden himself remains out of public view, believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.
Bolivia's president sparked speculation during a visit to Russia after he said that his country would be willing to consider granting asylum to Snowden.
The plane carrying Morales home from a Moscow summit was rerouted to Vienna on Tuesday night, adding a new twist to the international uproar over Snowden's revelations of widespread U.S. surveillance. The plane took off again shortly before noon Wednesday after sitting overnight at the airport.
Austrian officials said Morales' plane was searched early Wednesday by Austrian border police after Morales gave permission. Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Snowden was not on board.
The emergency stop in Austria may have been caused by a dispute over where the plane could refuel and whether European authorities could inspect it for signs of Snowden.
Morales' aircraft asked controllers at Vienna airport to land because there was "no clear indication" that the plane had enough fuel to continue on its journey, an official in Vienna said. The official demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to go public with the information.
Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, continued to insist that several European countries had refused permission for the plane to fly in their airspace.
Bolivia's U.N. ambassador Sacha Llorenti said it was an "act of aggression" and that the four countries violated international law. Llorenti said "the orders came from the United States" but other nations violated the immunity of the president and his plane, putting his life at risk.
There was no immediate U.S. response to Llorenti's accusation.
In Washington, the State Department would not comment directly Tuesday night. Earlier Tuesday, department spokesman Patrick Ventrell would not discuss how the Obama administration might respond if Snowden left the Moscow airport. "We're not there yet," he said.
Bolivian officials said that France, Portugal and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories based on unfounded rumors that Snowden was on board.
French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said "France ended up authorizing the flight over its airspace by Mr. Morales' plane."
She said the plane "was authorized to fly over French territory" but wouldn't explain whether there had been an initial refusal Tuesday night amid the rumors about Snowden's presence on the plane.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that Portugal had granted permission for the plane to fly through its air space but declined Bolivia's request for a refueling stop in Lisbon due to unspecified technical reasons.
Italian officials were not available to speak on the subject.
Meanwhile a separate saga played out with Spanish authorities.
Bolivia said Spain agreed to allow the plane to refuel in the Canary Islands — but only if Bolivian authorities allowed it to be inspected. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo denied Wednesday that his country demanded an inspection of the Bolivian plane.
Speaking in Berlin, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said authorization was given for the plane to stop and refuel in Spain's Canary Islands but that it was important Snowden was not aboard. He said the debate was "a little artificial."
While the Bolivian presidential plane sat in pre-dawn darkness on the tarmac in Vienna, a surreal scene played out when Spain's ambassador to Austria visited the airport to meet with Morales, the Bolivian president told reporters Wednesday.
The ambassador, Alberto Carnero, asked Morales if they could board the Bolivian plane together.
"He asked me to go have a coffee inside the plane to see the plane," Morales said, adding that he believed the request was made so the plane could be inspected.
Morales also said the ambassador pledged to give an answer about whether the plane could fly over Spain after 9 a.m. Wednesday, saying he had to consult "with friends." Morales said they were "friends of Spain" but he did not know who.
Morales said he never saw Snowden and that Bolivia has not received a formal request for asylum for him. The country would consider a request if it receives one, Morales said.
Leaks by Snowden, a former NSA systems analyst, have revealed the NSA's sweeping data collection of U.S. phone records and some Internet traffic, though U.S. intelligence officials have said the programs target foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.
Snowden has applied for asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and 18 other countries, according to WikiLeaks, a secret spilling website that has been advising him. Many European countries on the list — including Austria, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland — said he would have to make his request on their soil.
EU Transport spokeswoman Helen Kearns said it is up to national governments to allow or refuse planes entry into their airspace. She said it's unclear what happened with the Bolivian plane and whether or not it was refused access and why.
___ Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Ciaran Giles and Alan Clendenning in Madrid, George Jahn in Vienna, John Heilprin in Geneva, Raf Casert in Brussels and Barry Hatton in Portugal contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's health care law, hailed as his most significant legislative achievement, seems to be losing much of its sweep.
On Tuesday, the administration unexpectedly announced a one-year delay, until after the 2014 elections, in a central requirement of the law that medium and large companies provide coverage for their workers or face fines.
Separately, opposition in the states from Republican governors and legislators has steadily undermined a Medicaid expansion that had been expected to provide coverage to some 15 million low-income people.
Tuesday's move — which caught administration allies and adversaries by surprise — sacrificed timely implementation of Obama's signature legislation but might help Democrats politically by blunting an election-year line of attack Republicans were planning to use. The employer requirements are among the most complex parts of the health care law, designed to expand coverage for uninsured Americans.
"We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively," Treasury Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur said in a blog post. "We have listened to your feedback and we are taking action."
Business groups were jubilant. "A pleasant surprise," said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There was no inkling in advance of the administration's action, he said.
"We commend the administration's wise move," said Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation. It "will provide employers and businesses more time to update their health care coverage without threat of arbitrary punishment."
But the delay could also whittle away at the law's main goal of covering the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance.
Liberals immediately raised concerns. Will employees be able to get taxpayer-subsidized individual coverage through new health insurance markets if their company does not offer medical benefits? Uninsured people can start signing up Oct. 1 for the new individual policies.
"If the administration is going to give employers a break, it should not do that at the expense of millions of uninsured or underinsured workers who have been looking to have health insurance available to them on Jan. 1, 2014," said Richard Kirsch, a senior fellow with the Roosevelt Institute in New York, a think tank dedicated to promoting progressive policies.
Under the health law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance. Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. It will now be delayed to 2015.
Most medium-sized and large business already offer health insurance and the mandate was expected to have the biggest consequences for major chain hotels, restaurants and retail stores that employ many low-wage workers. Some had threatened to cut workers' hours, and others said they were putting off hiring.
Business groups have complained since the law passed that the provision was too complicated. For instance, it created a new definition of full-time workers, those putting in 30 hours or more. It also actually included two separate requirements, one to provide coverage and another that it be deemed "affordable" under the law. Violations of either one exposed employers to fines. But such complaints until now seemed to be going unheeded.
There is no coverage requirement — or penalty — for smaller businesses. Also, for businesses of any size, there is no penalty if their workers are poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid.
The delay in the employer requirement does not affect a provision in the law that requires individuals to carry health insurance starting next year or face fines. That so-called individual mandate was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the individual requirement was constitutional since the penalty would be collected by the Internal Revenue Service and amounted to a tax.
Tuesday's action could provide cover for Democratic candidates in next year's congressional elections.
The move undercuts Republican efforts to make the overhaul and the costs associated with new requirements a major issue in congressional races. Democrats are defending 21 Senate seats to the Republicans' 14, and the GOP already had begun to excoriate Senate Democrats who had voted for the health law in 2009.
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett cast the decision as part of an effort to simplify data reporting requirements.
She said since enforcing the coverage mandate depends on businesses reporting about their workers' access to insurance, the administration decided to postpone the reporting requirement, and with it, the mandate to provide coverage.
"We have and will continue to make changes as needed," Jarrett wrote in a White House blog post. "In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right. We are listening."
Republicans called it a validation of their belief that the law is unworkable and should be repealed.
"The president's health care law is already raising costs and costing jobs. This announcement means even the Obama administration knows the 'train wreck' will only get worse," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in an email. "This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable, and it underscores the need to repeal the law and replace it with effective, patient-centered reforms."
___ Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Sam Hananel and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.