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Egyptian minister says end of crisis 'imminent'

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 26 2012 8:33 a.m. MST

Egyptian protesters clash with security forces, not pictured, near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. President Mohammed Morsi edicts, which were announced on Thursday, place him above oversight of any kind, including that of the courts. The move has thrown Egypt's already troubled transition to democracy into further turmoil, sparking angry protests across the country to demand the decrees be immediately rescinded.

Ahmed Gomaa, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's justice minister said Monday that a resolution was "imminent" to the political crisis over President Mohammed Morsi's decision to grant himself sweeping new powers, a move that has touched off days of violent street protests.

Ahmed Mekki spoke to reporters shortly before Morsi was due to meet members of the Supreme Judiciary Council to discuss the decrees the Islamist president announced last week that put him above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts. The judiciary council is in charge of the courts.

Mekki has been mediating between the judiciary and the presidency to try to defuse the crisis, although he did not say on what he based his prediction for its impending resolution.

Opposition activists have denounced Morsi's decrees as a blatant power grab, and refused to enter a dialogue with the presidency before the edicts are rescinded. The president has vigorously defended the new powers, saying they are necessary to implement badly needed reforms and protect Egypt's transition to democracy.

Ayman al-Sayyad, a member of Morsi's 17-member advisory council, said the body asked the president in meetings over the weekend to negotiate a way out of the crisis with the judiciary, and enter dialogue with all political forces to iron out differences over the nation's new constitution.

Secular and Christian politicians have withdrawn from a 100-seat panel tasked with drafting the charter, in protest of what they call the hijacking of the process by Morsi's Islamist allies. They fear the Islamists would produce a draft that infringes on the rights of liberals, women and the minority Christians.

The president, al-Sayyad added, would shortly take decisions that would spare the nation a "possible sea of blood." He did not elaborate.

The dispute over the decrees, the latest in the country's bumpy transition to democracy, has taken a toll on the nation's already ailing economy — Egypt's benchmark stock index dropped more than 9.5 percentage points on Sunday, the first day of trading since Morsi's announcement. It fell again Monday during early trading but recovered to close up by 2.6 percentage points.

It has also played out in urban street protests across the country, including in the capital Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

The Health Ministry said Monday that a total of 444 people have been wounded nationwide since the clashes erupted on Friday. Forty-nine of these remain hospitalized, it said in a statement carried by official news agency MENA.

In the Nile Delta city of Damanhoor, a teenager was killed late Sunday and at least 40 people were wounded when a group of anti-Morsi protesters tried to storm the local offices of the political arm of the president's fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful political force in Egypt.

It was the first reported death from the street battles over the decrees, officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

On Monday, thousands gathered in Damanhoor for the teenager's funeral, while in Cairo thousands more marched through Tahrir square for the funeral of another young Egyptian killed in clashes with police in the capital. Tahrir was the birthplace of last year's uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

An informal truce between the police and protesters staging a sit-in in the square allowed the funeral to go ahead peacefully. The sit-in, which has hundreds of participants, is aimed at forcing Morsi to back down.

Morsi's office said in a statement that he had ordered the country's top prosecutor to investigate the teenager's death, along with that of the man killed in Cairo last week during demonstrations to mark the anniversary of deadly protests last year that called for an end to the then-ruling military.

The judiciary, the main target of Morsi's edicts, has pushed back, calling the decrees a power grab and an "assault" on the branch's independence. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from many courts in Cairo and other cities on Sunday and Monday.

Morsi supporters insist the measures were necessary to prevent the courts, which already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, from delaying efforts to bring stability by disbanding the panel writing the new constitution, as judges were considering doing. Both the parliament and the constitutional assembly are dominated by Islamists.

Morsi, an Islamist, accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals. His Thursday edicts bar the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly or parliament's upper house.

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