Rival rally at Mursi Cairo palace

A man walks in front of riot police at the gate of the presidential palace in Cairo, 5 December 2012. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called for a rally backing President Mohammed Mursi outside his palace on Wednesday and leftists planned a counter-demonstration, raising fears of clashes in a crisis over a disputed push for a new constitution. (Photo: Reuters - Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi called for protests on Wednesday outside the presidential palace, raising fears of a potential showdown as Egypt's crisis deepens.

The rallies at the Itihadiya palace -- besieged Tuesday by Mursi opponents -- are set to square Islamist pro-Mursi demonstrators against his secular-leaning opposition. The two groups until now have only held separate mass protests.

As tension heightens in anticipation of an escalating showdown between rival citizens, pro-Mursi supporters continue to attack anti-Mursi demonstrators still camped outside the presidential palace, according to Al-Akhbar's correspondent in Cairo.

Security forces are reportedly remaining passive as attacks on anti-Mursi demonstrators continue.

"The Muslim Brotherhood and other popular forces have called for a demonstration outside the Itihadiya palace on Wednesday afternoon to defend legitimacy after (protesters) yesterday thought they could impose their opinions through force," said the Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman Mahmud Ghozlan in a statement.

Egypt's president returned to his Cairo palace Wednesday with hundreds of protesters still camped outside a day after a mass outpouring of anger that has given new momentum to the opposition demanding that the Islamist leader rescind decrees giving him sweeping powers.

The political crisis has left the country divided into two camps: Mursi, his Muslim Brotherhood and their ultraconservative Islamist allies, versus an opposition made up of youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public. And both sides have dug in their heels, signaling a protracted standoff.

Buoyed by the massive turnout, the mostly secular opposition held a series of meetings late Tuesday and Wednesday to decide on next steps in the standoff that began on November 22 with Mursi's decrees that placed him above oversight of any kinds and escalated after the president's allies pushed through a draft constitution without the participation of liberals and Christians.

Vice President Mahmoud Mekky said on Wednesday amendments to disputed articles of the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition ahead of a December 15 referendum and put in writing, and he called for dialogue with opponents to end the crisis.

"There must be consensus," Mahmoud Mekky told a news conference. He expected a dialogue to begin soon, he said, adding the demands of opposition protesters must be respected.

"There is real political will to pass the current period and respond to the demands of the public," Mekky said. "(We) could ... agree from now on amendments in a written document before the referendum," Mekky said.

Opposition groups are expected to respond to Mekky's call in a press conference Wednesday evening, said Al-Akhbar's Cairo correspondent.

While calling for more mass rallies is the obvious course of action, activists said opposition leaders also were discussing whether to campaign for a "no" vote in a December 15 constitutional referendum or to call for a boycott.

Leaders of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood have been calling on the opposition to enter a dialogue with the Islamist leader. But the opposition contends that a dialogue is pointless unless the president first rescinds his decrees and shelves the draft charter.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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