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Egypt^BENT^0027^EENT^s military warned Saturday of 'disastrous consequences' if protesters don't leave the streets.
CAIRO--Egypt's military warned on Saturday of "disastrous consequences" if the crisis that sent tens of thousands of protesters back into the streets is not resolved, signaling the army's return to an increasingly polarized and violent political scene.
The military said serious dialogue is the "best and only" way to overcome the nation's deepening conflict over a disputed draft constitution hurriedly adopted by Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi, and recent decrees granting himself near-absolute powers.
"Anything other than that (dialogue) will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something which we won't allow," the statement said. It was read by an unnamed military official on state television.
Morsi had called for a dialogue Saturday to discuss how to resolve the disagreement as his vice president suggested that a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum could be delayed.
But the main opposition leaders declined to attend, saying talks can only take place if Morsi rescinds his decrees and cancels the referendum.
Most of the public figures at the meeting were Islamists, with the exception of liberal opposition politician Ayman Nour.
And at least three members left the talks soon after they started. Ahmed Mahran, a lawyer who was among them, said: "It was a one-way conversation," accusing presidential advisers of refusing to listen.
Egypt's once all-powerful military, which temporarily took over governing the country after the revolution that ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, was largely sidelined weeks after Morsi was elected.
Weeks after he was sworn in, Morsi ordered the two top generals to retire and gave himself legislative powers that the military had assumed in the absence of a parliament, which had been dissolved by the courts.
The current crisis was sparked Nov. 22 when Morsi granted himself authority free of judicial oversight, alleging that judges loyal to the former regime were threatening the constitutional drafting process and the transition to democracy.
But the move touched off a new wave of opposition and unprecedented clashes between the president's Islamist supporters led by the Muslim Brotherhood and protesters accusing him of becoming a new strongman.
At least six civilians have been killed and several offices of the president's Muslim Brotherhood torched in the unrest. The two sides also have staged a number of sit-ins around state institutions, including the presidential palace where some of the most violent clashes occurred.
With the increasing polarization and the specter of internal fighting looming, the military began reasserting itself, with soldiers sealing off the presidential palace with tanks and barbed wire. Its warning on Saturday marked the first time the military returned to the political fray.
Failing to reach a consensus, "is in the interest of neither side. The nation as a whole will pay the price," the military said.