Egypt Opposition Cries Fraud in Referendum

Egypt's opposition cried fraud in a referendum which started on Saturday on a new constitution, accusing President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of vote-rigging to have the Islamist-backed text adopted.

But the National Salvation Front opposition coalition did not immediately make good on a threat to call a boycott if it perceived violations, instead stepping up an appeal to Egypt's 51 million voters to reject the draft charter.

The Front's allegations, which including unsealed ballot envelopes and one judge in Cairo preventing Christians from voting in a polling station, underlined the highly charged conditions in which the two-stage referendum was taking place.

Three weeks of anti-Morsi protests and clashes in Cairo last week that killed eight people and injured hundreds have failed to prevent the referendum going ahead on the draft charter largely shaped by Morsi's Islamist allies.

Some 120,000 troops were reinforcing 130,000 police deployed to ensure security during the voting, which was being staggered across the country on Saturday and a week later because of a lack of judges willing to oversee polling.

In Alexandria, Egypt's second-biggest city, clashes between stone-throwing mobs erupted on the eve of voting, injuring 23 people, after a cleric urged worshipers in his mosque to vote "yes" in the referendum, the official MENA news agency reported.

The situation there was calm on Saturday, Khaled el-Azazi, spokesman for the regional security authorities, told AFP. "We will arrest anyone who starts riots."

Morsi cast his ballot at a polling station near the presidential palace in Cairo, state television showed. He made no comment to the media.

His Muslim Brotherhood has thrown its formidable organizational machine behind a campaign in favor of the draft constitution.

"I'm voting for stability and for Dr Morsi's promised program of renewal. I have gone over the text to compare it with what the opposition is saying, and what they say is false. It's a good constitution," said one Cairo voter, Enayat Sayyed Mostafa, a retired woman.

Many opposition voters, though, were especially hostile to the Brotherhood, which the opposition Front believes wants to usher in sharia-style strict (Islamic) laws.

"I'm voting because I hate the Muslim Brotherhood, it's very simple. They are liars," said one voter, Abbas Abdelaziz, a 57-year-old accountant, outside a Cairo polling station.

Ali Mohammed Ali, an unemployed 65-year-old wearing a traditional long robe, regretted having voted for Morsi as president.

"I voted for Morsi and it was a mistake, a big mistake. This constitution is bad, especially because it doesn't forbid child labor and opens the way for the marriage of minors," he said.

International watchdogs, the U.N. human rights chief, Washington and the European Union have expressed reservations about the draft because of loopholes that could be used to weaken human rights, including those of women, and the independence of the judiciary.

Analysts said it was likely -- but not certain -- the draft constitution would be adopted.

Whatever the outcome, "lasting damage to the civility of Egyptian politics will be the main outcome of the current path Morsi has set Egypt on," one analyst, Issandr El Amrani, wrote for his think-tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"If the 'no' vote wins, the Morsi presidency will have been fully discredited and the pressure for his resignation will only increase," he said. "If 'yes' wins, the protest movement is unlikely to die down, (and) may radicalism."

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