CAIRO: With tens of thousands of protesters rallying to support him, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate for president called on the Egyptian authorities Friday to release the results of the weekend's election as soon as possible and warned against trying to manipulate the "popular will."
The comments by Mohammed Morsi came soon after the ruling military council blamed the fundamentalist Islamic group for fueling tensions in the country by announcing that their candidate won hours after the voting ended instead of waiting for an official announcement. That claim of victory was contested by Morsi's rival, Ahmed Shafiq, ousted President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.
The public exchange of blame between the Islamists and the military council signal an escalation of pressure by both sides as Egyptians wait for the electoral commission to release final results from the June 16-17 runoff vote. The official declaration was postponed from Thursday and no new date has been set. That has set off a wave of accusations of fraud and manipulation aimed at all sides.
Morsi, appearing at a news conference alongside a group of public figures and youth representatives, said a united front is forming against the decisions by the military council.
"We are all in favor of announcing the results and we expect the higher election committee to announce those results as soon as possible and without delay," Morsi said. "The expected results are known to all. We won't accept any manipulation."
In a stern message earlier, the military council blamed the Brotherhood for the tension and confusion that has ensued.
"Announcing the results of the presidential election early, before the official statement, is unjustified and is one of the main reasons behind the division and confusion prevailing on the political scene," said the military statement read on state TV, without naming the Brotherhood.
The military, which has promised to hand over power by July 1, also defended its newly issued "constitutional declaration" that granted the generals sweeping powers, including legislative powers and approval of the budget. The declaration was met by international condemnation, saying it raised doubts about the military's commitment to transferring powers to an elected civilian authority.
The Brotherhood-led parliament also was dissolved by a court order, and a government decision gave the military police and intelligence the
right to arrest and detain civilians over a wide range of issues, including traffic obstruction.
The constitutional declaration was "a necessity" during this "critical period," the military statement said. "Whatever decisions issued by the (military council) are guided only by higher national interests and not any other."
The military council also rebuffed calls to reinstate the Brotherhood-dominated parliament, saying court decisions must be respected. It warned that any attempt to "harm public and private interests" would draw a "firm" response, suggesting it would not tolerate violent protests.
Tens of thousands rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak last year, for the fourth straight day, escalating pressure on the generals. Friday's rally was the largest since the first post-Mubarak election began in late May.
Most demonstrators were Muslim Brotherhood members and backers - unlike the mostly secular and liberal protesters who dominated the popular revolution. They were joined by a few youth revolutionary groups that have long protested against the generals, accusing them of mismanaging the transition. Similar protests were held in Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city and other cities.
Before leading Friday prayers in the Cairo square, cleric Mazhar Shaheen said Morsi was the clear winner in the election.
"From here, we tell Morsi ... to be president for all Egyptians - those who voted for him and those who didn't - and to reach out to Muslims and Christians. He is president for all," the cleric told the crowd from a podium. About 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people are Christians.
Morsi also sought to assuage his critics. Secular and liberal groups have been highly critical of the Brotherhood, accusing it of being power hungry at the expense of forming a national consensus.
He appeared at the press conference with a group of leading public figures and protest leaders who said it was time to "forgive" the Brotherhood's mistakes to face what they said were attempts to establish a "military state."
He promised the groups a national coalition government with an independent prime minister who is not a Brotherhood member and wide representation in the presidency.
Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive and one of the leading figures behind the protests against Mubarak last year, was among those rallying behind Morsi. He said it was time to put political differences aside.
"Our support is not to the Brotherhood, but to the legitimacy and democracy against any attempts by anyone - either those with guns or those waging misleading media campaigns," Ghonim said.
Meanwhile, state media has taken a sharp tone against the Brotherhood, accusing the group of fomenting unrest and warning it against unleashing armed militias.
Late Thursday, Shafiq repeated his claim of victory and charged that the Brotherhood was "playing games" and striking "backdoor deals" with outside powers to influence the results.
Shafiq denounced the Brotherhood's public appeals. "These protests in the squares and fear-mongering campaigns in the media are all aimed at putting pressure on the election commission," he said.
By the Brotherhood's count, Morsi took 52 percent of the vote to Shafiq's 48 percent. The claim was based on the group's own compilation of election officials' returns from nearly all polling centers. The Brotherhood's early partial counts proved generally accurate in last month's first round of the presidential election.