Protesters against Egypt president march on palace

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 7 2012 7:51 a.m. MST

Egyptian army tanks secure the perimeter of the presidential palace while protesters gather chanting anti president Mohammed Morsi slogans, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets after Friday midday prayers in rival rallies and marches across Cairo, as the standoff deepened over what opponents call the Islamist president's power grab, raising the specter of more violence.

Nasser Nasser, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's political crisis spiraled deeper into bitterness and recrimination Friday as thousands of Islamist backers of the president vowed vengeance at a funeral for two men killed in bloody clashes earlier this week and large crowds of the president's opponents marched on his palace to increase pressure after he rejected their demands.

The two camps in the country's divide appeared at a deadlock, after President Mohammed Morsi gave a fiery televised speech Thursday night denouncing his opponents and refusing to call off a referendum on a draft constitution promulgated by his allies, even as he appealed for dialogue. The opposition rejected talks, saying he must first cancel the referendum and meet other demands.

With Egypt's crisis now in its third week, anger was mounting in the streets, after the two camps clashed Wednesday in heavy battles outside the presidential palace that left six dead and more than 700 injured.

Each side is depicting the conflict as an all-out fight for Egypt's future. The opposition accuses Morsi and his Islamist allies of turning increasingly dictatorial to force their agenda on the country and monopolize power. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and other Islamists say the opposition is trying to use the streets to overturn their victories in elections over the past year.

The tone was one of a battle cry as thousands of Islamists held funeral prayers Friday at Al-Azhar Mosque — the country's premier Islamic institution — for two Morsi supporters killed in Wednesday's clashes. Seeking to rally their side, a series of speakers to the crowd portrayed the opposition as tools of the regime of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak — or as decadent and un-Islamic — and vowed to defend a constitution they say brings Islamic law to Egypt.

"Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal," the crowd chanted in a funeral procession filling streets around the mosque. During the funeral, thousands chanted, "With blood and soul, we redeem Islam," pumping their fists in the air. Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were "murderers."

One hardline cleric speaking to the crowd denounced anti-Morsi protesters as "traitors." Another declared that they will not allow Egypt to become "a den of hash smokers."

"We march on this path in sacrifice for the nation and our martyrs," a leading Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagi, told the crowd. "We will keep going even if we all become martyrs. We will avenge them or die like them.

"Bread! Freedom! Islamic Law!" the crowd chanted, twisting the revolutionary slogan of "Bread! Freedom! Social Justice!" used by leftists and secular activists in the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.

At the same time, thousands of protesters against Morsi streamed in several marches from different parts of Cairo toward his presidential palace in an upscale neighborhood for a third straight day. Many were furious over the president's speech the night before in which he accused "hired thugs" of attacking protesters outside the palace Wednesday, sparking the clashes. Most witnesses say the clashes began with Morsi supporters attacked a tent camp set up by anti-Morsi protesters.

At the rings of barbed wire outside the palace, protesters chanted, "Leave, leave," and "the people want the fall of the regime." Egypt's military intervened on Thursday for the first time, posting tanks around the palace and stringing barbed wire. Morsi attended weekly Friday prayers at the Republican Guards' mosque near the palace — after he was denounced by worshippers last week at a mosque near his home in a Cairo suburb where he often prays.

The National Salvation Front, the main opposition umbrella group, blasted Morsi's speech, saying he was "surprisingly in denial to facts that millions of people in Egypt and around the world have seen" — that the violence Wednesday came from "clear and blatant instigation by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the president hails."

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