The stand-off between Egypt’s military and the Muslim Brotherhood escalated on Friday as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces accused the country’s largest political party of raising tensions by claiming victory in last week’s presidential election ahead of the official result

In a televised statement issued as tens of thousands of Brotherhood protesters poured into Tahrir Square in central Cairo, SCAF warned that the military and police would respond “firmly” to attempts to “harm public and private interests”.

The Muslim Brotherhood is convinced that its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won but fear that the military intends to hand victory to his rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who also served in the regime of the ailing former president Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Morsi condemned what he said was an attempt by the military “to mislead public opinion” and denied that the Muslim Brotherhood would orchestrate or condone a campaign of violent protest. “This [plan for violence] does not exist, will not exist, cannot exist and there is no scope for it to exist,” he said, surrounded by secular politicians including young activists who launched the uprising that unseated Mr Mubarak last year.

Casting himself as the standard bearer of the revolution against an entrenched military elite, the Islamist leader reiterated his rejection of new measures announced last week by SCAF which are widely seen as a “soft coup”. He vowed that peaceful protests would continue until the changes have been rescinded but, striking a conciliatory tone, also said had no problems with “the patriotic armed forces.”

The military council had said in its statement that the measures, which restrict the powers of the president and concentrate authority in the hands of the military, were necessary to run the country’s affairs “in this critical period”.

A court order last week also dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament, the country’s only democratically elected institution.

“They want to burn the president, just as they burnt parliament,” said Ali Soliman, a teacher and Muslim Brotherhood supporter at the Cairo rally. “They want to restrict his powers, then six months later they will say, ‘but he has done nothing for the country’. People will not accept his. The president has to enjoy full authority.”

Another protester, Mekawi Ahmed, said: “The military council is gambling with the security of the whole nation. The people have chosen, so let us test our choice. I am not a member of the Brotherhood, but I voted Morsi and I am here in this demonstration for Egypt.”

Mr Morsi had claimed a narrow victory on Monday, just hours after polls closed, while Mr Shafiq’s campaign has continued to insist he is the winner. The two candidates have accused each other of fraud, while authorities say the result announcement has been delayed in order to give the electoral commission time to investigate irregularities.

State radio quoted the electoral commission on Friday as saying that there was still no date yet for the official result.

The delay has further unsettled a nervous and deeply polarised society that fears an eruption of violence after a winner is announced.

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