Protest at Egypt president's palace turns violent

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4 2012 12:06 p.m. MST

Smaller protests by Morsi opponents were staged in the southern city of Assiut, an Islamists stronghold, and the industrial city of Mahallah north of Cairo as well as Suez.

"Freedom or we die," chanted a crowd of several hundred outside a mosque in the Abbasiyah district. "Mohammed Morsi illegitimate! Brotherhood! Illegitimate!" they also yelled.

"This is the last warning before we lay siege to the presidential palace," said Mahmoud Hashim, a 21-year-old student from the city of Suez on the Red Sea. "We want the presidential decrees cancelled."

Several hundred protesters also gathered outside Morsi's residence in an upscale suburb.

"Down with the sons of dogs. We are the power and we are the people," they chanted.

Morsi, who narrowly won the presidency in a June election, appeared to be in no mood for compromise.

A statement by his office said he met Tuesday with his deputy, prime minister and several top Cabinet members to discuss preparations for the referendum. The statement suggested business as usual at the palace, despite the mass rally outside its doors.

The Islamists responded to the mass opposition protests last week by sending hundreds of thousands of supporters into Cairo's twin city of Giza on Saturday and across much of the country. Thousands also besieged Egypt's highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The court had been widely expected Sunday to declare the constitutional assembly that passed the draft charter on Friday illegitimate and to disband parliament's upper house, the Shura Council. Instead, the judges went on strike after they found their building under siege by protesters.

The opposition has yet to say whether it intends to focus its energy on rallying support for a boycott of the Dec. 15 vote or defeating the draft with a "no" vote.

"We haven't made any decisions yet, but I'm leaning against a boycott and toward voting 'no,'" said Hossam al-Hamalawy of the Socialist Revolutionaries, a key group behind last year's uprising. "We want a (new) constituent assembly that represents the people and we keep up the pressure on Morsi."

The judges' strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could spread to other industries.

On Tuesday, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of expression in the draft constitution.

The country's privately owned TV networks planned their own protest Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day.

Morsi's Nov. 22 decrees placed him above oversight of any kind, including the courts. The constitutional panel then rushed through a draft constitution without the participation of representatives of liberals and Christians. Only four women, all Islamists, attended the marathon, all-night session.

The charter has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and minority groups, and many journalists see it as restricting freedom of expression. Critics also say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists' enemies.

Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report.

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