Protesters Encircle Morsi Palace, VP Says President 'Could Accept to Delay Referendum' if No Legal Falloutإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Thousands of protesters broke through a barbed-wire perimeter protecting the Cairo palace of President Mohamed Morsi on Friday, as his vice-president hinted at a possible compromise aimed at calming the seething crisis dividing Egypt.
A cordon of soldiers prevented the crowd from nearing the palace's main gate, but elsewhere protesters sprayed graffiti on the outside walls saying "Leave, Morsi" and "Down with the Muslim Brotherhood," the movement from which Morsi hails, Agence France Presse correspondents at the scene said.
There was no visible violence. But tensions were high after bloody clashes at the same spot on Wednesday between supporters and opponents of Morsi left seven people dead and more than 600 injured.
Several army tanks were stationed in the square and nearby but made no movement against the protesters, some of whom clambered atop them to declare the army was "hand in hand" with them.
That was reminiscent of the popular uprising that ousted long-time president Hosni Mubarak early last year, when tanks stood idle amid massive protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, as protesters mixed with soldiers.
The crowd also shouted "We want to see the fall of the regime" -- a slogan common during the anti-Mubarak revolt.
The increasingly strident calls for Morsi to step down followed an address on Thursday in which the president dismissed demands he give up sweeping new powers he decreed for himself two weeks ago and postpone a December 15 referendum on a constitution drafted by a panel of Islamist allies.
Late Friday, however, Egypt's vice-president, Mahmoud Mekki, told AFP that Morsi "could accept to delay the referendum" on the draft constitution but only if the opposition guaranteed it would launch no legal challenge to the decision.
Under Egyptian law, a president is compelled to hold a referendum two weeks after formally being delivered its text.
Mekki's suggestion implied Morsi might be seeking a way to de-escalate the crisis.
On Thursday, Morsi had offered to hold talks with the opposition, but the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, rebuffed the offer, accusing Morsi of "dividing Egyptians between his 'supporters of legitimacy'... and his opponents."
The opposition sees Morsi's decree as a brazen power grab, and the draft constitution as an attempt to quash Egypt's secular underpinnings in favor of Islamic aspirations.
Demonstrators on Cairo's streets said they were determined to stop Morsi.
"Before the violence, I just wanted Morsi to repeal his decree and cancel the referendum. But now that blood has been spilt, he has to go," said Sahar al-Shazli, 27, a veil covering her face.
"Morsi won't back down and neither will we," said Sharif Qasem, a demonstrator outside the palace. "Those who are steadfast the longest will win."
But determination flashed just as brightly among those backing the president.
Late Friday, police fired tear gas at hundreds of Islamist protesters, mostly hardline Salafists, who tried storming the Cairo studios of private Egyptian television channels critical of Morsi's supporters.
Prominent Salafist leader Hazim Abu Ismail had called for the demonstrations on his Twitter and Facebook accounts in order to "cleanse the media" of reporting they see as biased against the Islamists' cause.
At a Cairo funeral on Friday for several of the seven people killed this week and said to be Muslim Brotherhood members, Morsi supporters dismissed the public protests against the president.
"All the people are with us, with the (draft) constitution," said one Brotherhood supporter attending the service in the Al-Azhar mosque.
That unquestioning backing was not shared by Egypt's top Islamic body, which on Thursday called on Morsi to suspend the decree.
The United States and European Union have called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.
And on Friday, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay criticized the draft constitution and "the way the process has been short-circuited," saying "people are right to be very concerned."
She highlighted the proposed charter's perceived weaknesses in upholding human rights and gender equality, the primacy of Islamic sharia law in the text and its potential to give the president "excessive power" over the judiciary.