Egypt Opposition Calls Mass Protests Rejecting Referendum

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Egypt's opposition on Sunday called for mass street protests on Tuesday rejecting a December 15 referendum on a new constitution largely drafted by President Mohamed Morsi's Islamist allies.

"We do not recognize the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people," the opposition National Salvation Front said in a statement read out at a news conference by spokesman Sameh Ashour.

"We reject the referendum which will certainly lead to more division and sedition," he said.

"The Front calls for demonstrations in the capital and in the regions on Tuesday as a rejection of the president's decision that goes against our legitimate demands," he said.

The statement also condemned "militias" from the Muslim Brotherhood backing Morsi and "terrorist gangs."

The protest call meant Egypt's weeks-long political crisis was to continue, despite Morsi on Saturday making a key concession to the opposition by rescinding a controversial November decree that had given him expanded powers free from judicial review.

Tuesday's demonstrations could lead to more violence if Morsi's supporters challenge them, as occurred on Wednesday when seven people were killed and hundreds injured in vicious clashes outside the presidential palace.

Hundreds of people were gathering peacefully in front of the presidential palace in Cairo.

The National Salvation Front held its meeting after Morsi announced he had met one of their key demands: that he give up expanded powers he assumed in a decree last month giving him immunity from judicial oversight.

Morsi, speaking through an aide, said however he was maintaining that a December 15 referendum on a controversial new constitution drafted by a panel dominated by his Islamist allies would still be held.

The opposition had previously said it would sustain its protests until Morsi scrapped both the decree and the referendum.

Some opposition groups were already insisting Morsi's decree concession did not go far enough.

The April 6 Youth Movement dismissed it as "a political maneuver aimed at duping the people," and called for continued protests to stop "the referendum on the constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood."

Prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei -- a former U.N. atomic agency chief and a Nobel Peace laureate -- tweeted that "a constitution that curtails our rights and freedoms is a constitution we will topple."

Demonstrators furious at what they saw as a power grab by Morsi and the railroading of the draft constitution have held weeks of street rallies whose demands have escalated into calls for the president's resignation.

On Wednesday, clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators outside the presidential palace killed seven people and injured more than 600.

The army stepped in, deploying tanks and troops around the palace. Soldiers reinforced barricades on access roads early on Sunday, piling up concrete blocks three meters (10 feet) high, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.

Air force F-16 warplanes also flew low over the city center. The official MENA news agency described the unusually low flyover as an exercise against "hostile air attacks and to secure important state installations."

On Saturday, the military issued its first statement since the crisis began, urging the rival camps to talk, warning that a dangerous deterioration was "something we will not allow."

The possibility of talks calming the crisis following Morsi's concession sent Egypt's stock market 4.4 percent higher on Sunday, clawing back some of the heavy losses over the past week.

Prime Minister Hisham Qandil urged protesters from both sides to stop demonstrating, and to vote in Saturday's referendum, MENA said.

Qandil noted that Morsi could not postpone the referendum even if he wanted to, as a president was constitutionally bound to hold plebiscites exactly two weeks after they are formally presented to him.

Opposition figures though denounce the draft charter as weakening protection of human rights and the rights of women and religious minorities.

Those criticisms were echoed last week by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. "I believe people are right to be very concerned," she said.

Analysts have said the referendum will probably see the draft constitution adopted, given still strong public support for Morsi and the Brotherhood's organizational skills.

"The Muslim Brotherhood believes that it has majority support so it can win the constitutional referendum," said Eric Trager, analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

If that happens, it would "set up the country for prolonged instability."

Comments 1
Thumb LebDinosaur 09 December 2012, 19:16

The key part is about he constitution draft process which was shoved down their throat.