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Egypt

Tanks move in as Morsi backers, opponents clash over Egypt constitution

Egypt's army has reportedly deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo. This follows clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohammed Morsi over his plans for a constitutional referendum.

Protests in Egypt between Morsi supporters and opponents continued into the early hours of Thursday morning. Tanks moved towards the presidential palace as President Morsi is expected to give a speech.

In Cairo, protesters threw petrol bombs and rocks at each other near the presidential palace in the neighborhood of Heliopolis.

Clashes broke out between the two sides after Islamists answered a call from the Muslim Brotherhood to march on the palace, where hundreds of anti-Morsi protesters were camped out. The tents outside the palace were torn down in the violence before riot police moved into the area. Health ministry officials report that at least four people were killed and 350 people were injured in the clashes.

Meanwhile, offices of the Muslim Brotherhood were set on fire in the port city of Ismailiya. At offices of the organization's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, fires were also set in Suez. Morsi was a part of the Muslim Brotherhood before being elected president earlier this year.

The protests stem from Morsi's November 22 decrees, which give him sweeping new powers and allow him to put the country's disputed new constitution to a referendum.

Egypt's Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly approved the new constitution last week, and despite the violence, the referendum is still scheduled for December 15.

Resignations abound

As rumors circulated that there had been deaths in the Cairo protests on Wednesday evening, the president of the committee in charge of the referendum, judge Zaghloul al-Balshi, resigned from his post.

"I will not participate in a referendum for which the blood of Egyptians has been spilt, and I call on President Mohammed Morsi to cancel the constitutional declaration immediately," al-Balshi said on al-Hayat television.

Three of Morsi's advisers also announced their resignation late on Wednesday.

Vice President Mahmud Mekki said there was a "real political will" to respond to the opposition's demands regarding the constitution.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said that Morsi was "fully responsible" for Wednesday's violence, calling the president's regime "oppressive and autocratic."

ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear agency, had previously said the Egyptian president's decrees give him the power of a "new pharaoh."

He added that his side would not negotiate with Morsi until the constitutional declaration was cancelled.

"The revolution did not happen for this," said ElBaradei, referring to the 2011 demonstrations that led to the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak. "It happened for freedom, democracy and human dignity."

mz/mr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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