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CAIRO: More than 10,000 protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi swarmed the square in front of his Cairo palace last evening, breaking through barbed wire barriers protecting the compound.
A cordon of soldiers prevented the crowd from nearing the palace’s main gate, but elsewhere protesters sprayed graffiti on the outside walls, telling Mursi to “Go” and leave power.
There was no visible violence, but tensions were high after clashes at the same spot on Wednesday between pro- and anti-Mursi supporters 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 Mursi 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.
Leaders of the main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, rebuffed a grudging offer from Mursi to talk with them about the political crisis his decisions have triggered.
Both backers and the largely secular opposition have dug in their heels in the confrontation, raising the prospect of further escalation.
In his speech, Mursi sought to portray elements of the opposition as “thugs” allied to remnants of Mubarak’s regime.
Referendum may be delayed
President Mohammed Mursi “could accept to delay the referendum” on a draft constitution disputed by the opposition, if there are no legal consequences to such a decision, Vice-President Mahmud Mekki said yesterday.
Morsi would consider postponing the plebiscite on the contested charter if the opposition guaranteed not to challenge the move on the grounds that referendums legally have to be held two weeks after being formally presented to the president, Mekki said.