Clashes in Cairo as Morsi faces nationwide protests

Clashes in Cairo as Morsi faces nationwide protests

CAIRO - Agence France-Presse
Clashes in Cairo as Morsi faces nationwide protests

Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood called nationwide demonstrations Sunday in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in his showdown with the judges over the path to a new constitution. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER

Clashes between police and protesting youths erupted today near Cairo's Tahrir Square, ahead of a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers, AFP reported.

The planned demonstrations come a day after Morsi stuck by his controversial decree in a meeting with judges that was aimed at defusing the worst political crisis since his election in June.

On the edge of the square near the US embassy in Cairo, teenagers threw rocks at police who responded with tear gas, an AFP reporter said. In Tahrir itself, protesters took to the podium urging an end to the confrontation between the teenagers and the police, which threatened to spill into the square.

Marches are planned from across the capital into Tahrir -- the epicentre of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year -- where the numbers are expected to swell after the end of the work day.

Demonstrations have also been called in several Egyptian provinces including Alexandria on the Mediterranean, in the Nile Delta and in central Egypt.

The protesters are angry at the decree that Morsi announced last Thursday allowing him to "issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal", which effectively placed him beyond judicial oversight.

The decree put him on a collision course with the judiciary and consolidated the long-divided opposition which accuses him of taking on dictatorial powers.

In Tahrir Square, activists who have been camping out since Friday hoisted banners on lamp posts slamming the Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket Morsi ran for office.

"The Muslim Brotherhood stole the revolution" read one banner. Another said the president was "pushing the people to civil disobedience." After a meeting on Monday with top judges aimed at defusing the dispute, Morsi stuck by his controversial decree.

There is "no change to the constitutional declaration," presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters at the end of the meeting.

But he added that Morsi sought to clarify that any irrevocable decisions apply only to issues related "to his sovereign powers" and stressed the temporary nature of the decree.

A judicial source told AFP that even if immunity were limited to sovereign powers, "which appears to be a compromise, there are still concerns that the text itself remains unchanged." Morsi's decree has led to charges that he is taking on dictatorial powers.

Some courts have suspended work in protest, and journalists have decided in principle to strike.

On Monday, hundreds of mourners turned out for the burial of a member of the president's party who was killed in violence outside its offices in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour a day earlier.

Angry demonstrators have also torched offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

And in Cairo, thousands marched at the funeral of Gaber Salah, a member of the April 6 movement who died last week from injuries suffered in clashes near Tahrir Square.

Around the capital streets were quiet on Tuesday, with several schools closed for the day despite an education ministry statement saying that schools and universities would run as normal.

A new clinic was set up in the middle of the square, which was closed to traffic, while dozens of ambulances were parked nearby, an AFP reporter said.