CAIRO — Egypt's ruling military council on Friday blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for raising tensions by releasing presidential election results early — and defended decisions granting itself sweeping powers.
The military statement came as tens of thousands rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square to support the Brotherhood's candidate for president, Mohammed Morsi. The protesters also denounced what they perceive as the military's power grab that strips the next leader of much of his authority.
The demonstration in midday heat Friday, the largest in four straight days of protests, showed the potential explosiveness of the situation in Egypt.
The Brotherhood declared Morsi the winner in a runoff election for president just hours after polls closed this Sunday. That claim was contested by Morsi's rival, Ahmed Shafiq, who was ousted President Hosni Mubarak' s last prime minister.
The military council said in a sternly worded statement read out on state TV Friday that raising doubts about the future of Egypt is a means to pressure public opinion.
"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 statement, without naming the Brotherhood.
The official results of the election were to be announced Thursday, but authorities postponed that, setting off a wave of accusations of fraud and manipulation aimed at all sides, including the ruling military.
The generals last week issued a constitutional declaration that gave them wide powers, many of which would have been wielded by the newly elected president. International condemnation followed, saying the decision raised doubts about the military's commitment to transferring powers to an elected civilian authority.
The military has said it would hand over power by July 1, but the generals have called that into question in recent weeks because of political uncertainties.
The council said its constitutional declaration was needed in order for the military to run the country's affairs during this "critical period."
The military council also rebuffed calls to reinstate the Brotherhood-dominated parliament, which was dissolved by a court ruling last week. The military statement said court decisions must be respected.
The military warned that any attempt to "harm public and private interests" would draw a "firm" response, suggesting it would not tolerate violent protests.
Most of the demonstrators in the downtown Cairo square on Friday were Muslim Brotherhood members and backers — unlike the mostly secular and liberal protesters who dominated the popular revolution. They were joined by a few liberal 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.
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 we ask him 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 in the square. About 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people are Christians.
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.
Shafiq rejected those figures.
The Brotherhood said Morsi met Thursday with representatives of different revolutionary groups and public figures in an attempt to rally support against the military's moves, which they called a "military coup."
Morsi also consulted by phone with Mohamed ElBaradei, a pro-democracy leader, a prominent Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagy, wrote on his Facebook page. ElBaradei, a secular leader, was seen as a major spark of last year's popular uprising. He has had little contact with the Brotherhood since.
"We are on the verge of a new phase to reformulate a unifying national project," el-Beltagy wrote.