6 Dec 2012

Egypt president calls for dialogue after clashes

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi calls for a meeting with the opposition on Saturday to defuse a political crisis, after violent clashes leave five dead and hundreds injured.

The Egyptian army gave demonstrators until 3pm (1pm GMT) to evacuate the area around the palace where supporters of president Mohamed Mursi and protestors threw petrol bombs and stones at each other on Wednesday evening.

However, opposition activists have said they will return to the palace on Thursday afternoon.

Clashes between opponents and supporters of Mr Morsi left five people dead and 644 injured overnight.

In a televised speech, Mr Morsi expressed sorrow over the deaths.

He added that he supported the right to peaceful protest but alleged that some people had been paid to foment violence.

Mr Morsi said that 80 people had been detained as they had been “implicated in violent acts”.

He said that a controversial article in a recent declaration which gave him sweeping powers could be modified after discussions with opposition forces.

The declaration would be cancelled after a referendum on a new constitution planned for 15 December, whatever the result, Mr Morsi added.

Mr Morsi confirmed that the referendum would go ahead as planned, saying that if the constitution was voted down, another constituent assembly would be formed to write a new draft.

Tanks near Egypt's presidential palace (Reuters)

Six tanks and two armoured vehicles have been stationed on roads leading to the palace in the Cairo district of Heliopolis. Republican Guard commander Major general Mohammad Zaki said that the guard would not be taking sides.

“They will not be a tool to crush protesters and no force will be used against Egyptians,” he said in comments carried by the official MENA news agency.

“Defending Islam”

On Thursday morning the situation was reported to be calm at the palace, with thousands of Mursi supporters camping outside the palace after driving away protestors, which had involved fierce street battles in residential areas around the palace.

Protestors near the palace on Wednesday evening (Reuters)

“I don’t want Morsi to back down,” said Khaled Omar, a Brotherhood supporter. “We are not defending him, we are defending Islam, which is what people want.”

Protestors are demonstrating against the powers Mr Mursi gave himself, which will last until a new parliament is sworn in following the adoption of a new Egyptian constitution.

A referendum will be held over the constitution on 15 December, but protestors claim it will not be reprresentative of minority groups in Egypt. The consitution has been drawn up in secret by an assembly which is dominated by members of the Muslim brotherhood.

Human rights groups have warned that groups, such as women and Egypt’s Coptic Christian community, could siffer under the new constitution.

Wednesday’s violence spread to other parts of the country. Anti-Morsi protesters set the offices of the Mulsim Brotherhood on fire in Suez and Ismailia, east of Cairo, and clashes broke out in the industrial city of Mahallah and the province of Menoufiyah in the Nile Delta north of the capital.

In the Cairo suburb of Moqatam a senior Mulsim Brotherhood official, Sobhi Saleh, who had played a key role in drafting the constitution, was hospitalised after being beaten by protestors.