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Egypt opposition gives new call for protest against Morsi

CAIRO: Egypt’s liberal opposition called for more protests Sunday, seeking to keep up the momentum of its street campaign after the president made a partial concession overnight but refused its main demand he rescind a draft constitution going to a referendum on Dec. 15.

President Mohammed Morsi met one of the opposition’s demands, annulling his Nov. 22 decrees that gave him near unrestricted powers. But he insisted on going ahead with the referendum on a constitution hurriedly adopted by his Islamist allies during an all-night session late last month.

The opposition National Salvation Front called on supporters to rally against the referendum. The size of Sunday’s turnout, especially at Cairo’s central Tahrir square and outside the presidential palace in the capital’s Heliopolis district, will determine whether Morsi’s concession chipped away some of the popular support for the opposition’s cause.

The opposition said Morsi’s rescinding of his decrees was an empty gesture since the decrees had already achieved their main aim of ensuring the adoption of the draft constitution. The edicts had barred the courts from dissolving the Constituent Assembly that passed the charter and further neutered the judiciary by making Morsi immune from its oversight.

Still, the lifting of the decrees could persuade many judges to drop their two-week strike to protest what their leaders called Morsi’s assault on the judiciary. An end to their strike means they would oversee the Dec. 15 vote as is customary in Egypt.

If the referendum goes ahead, the opposition faces a new challenge either to campaign for a “no” vote or to boycott the process altogether. A low turnout or the charter passing by a small margin of victory would cast doubts on the constitution’s legitimacy.

Sunday’s rallies would be the latest of a series by opponents and supporters of Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both sides have drawn tens of thousands of people into the streets, sparking bouts of street battles that have left at least six people dead and hundreds wounded. Several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood also have been ransacked or torched in the unrest.

Bassem Sabry, a writer and activist, called the partial concession a “stunt” that would embarrass the opposition by making it look like Morsi was willing to compromise but not solve the problem.

“In the end, Morsi got everything he wanted,” he said, pointing out the referendum would be held without the consensus Morsi had promised to seek and without giving people sufficient time to study the document.

In his overnight announcement, Morsi also declared that if the draft constitution is rejected by voters in the referendum, a nationwide election would be held to select the next Constituent Assembly.

The assembly that adopted the draft was created by parliament, which was dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamists, and had an Islamist majority from the start. The lawmaking lower house of parliament was later disbanded by court order before Morsi’s inauguration.

If the draft is approved in the referendum, elections would be held for a new lower house of parliament would be held within two months, Morsi decided.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have spoken of a “conspiracy” hatched by figures of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak aimed at ousting Morsi.

Meanwhile, the opposition accused gangs organized by the Brotherhood and other Islamists of attacking its protesters, calling on Morsi to disband them and open an investigation into the bloodshed.

Members of a so-called Alliance of Islamists forces warned it will take all measures to protect “legitimacy” and the president comments that signal further violence may lie ahead.

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