Egypt: noisy, peaceful protest outside Morsi's palace

CAIRO, Ines Bel Aiba and Mona Salem- Several thousand protesters broke through a barbed-wire perimeter protecting the Cairo palace of President Mohamed Morsi on Friday to stage a noisy but peaceful demonstration against his expanded powers and proposed changes to the constitution.
As the crowd shot off fireworks, blew horns and painted slogans on the palace walls for Morsi to "Leave," his vice-president hinted at a possible compromise on a referendum for the draft charter aimed at calming the seething national crisis.

Egypt: noisy, peaceful protest outside Morsi's palace
A cordon of soldiers prevented the protesters from nearing the palace's main gate, but there was no visible violence -- unlike on Wednesday, when bloody clashes broke out at the same spot between pro- and anti-Morsi supporters that left seven people dead and more than 600 injured.
Several army tanks were stationed in the square and nearby but made no movement against the protesters, some of whom clambered aboard to declare the army was "hand in hand" with them.
That was reminiscent of the popular uprising that ousted long-time president Hosni Mubarak early last year, when tanks stood idle amid massive protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, as protesters mixed with soldiers.
The crowd also shouted "We want to see the fall of the regime" -- a slogan common during the anti-Mubarak revolt.
The interior ministry issued a statement late Friday urging the protesters to go home and saying extra security had been deployed around the palace to ensure calm.
A few kilometres (miles) away, around 2,000 Morsi supporters demonstrated outside a mosque, an AFP correspondent said. "We're with the president" and "We love you Morsi," they chanted.
Ayman al-Sawwah, a member of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, said he and his fellow demonstrators "won't go to the palace unless they (opposition) try to enter it by force."
The opposition has been demonstrating for two weeks against bolstered powers Morsi decreed for himself putting him above the law, and against a December 15 referendum on a draft constitution it sees as having been railroaded through by a panel of Morsi's Islamist allies.
On Friday, however, Egypt's vice-president, Mahmud Mekki, told AFP that Morsi "could accept to delay the referendum" on the draft constitution, but only if the opposition guaranteed it would launch no legal challenge to the decision.
Under Egyptian law, a president is compelled to hold a referendum two weeks after formally being delivered its text.
Mekki's suggestion implied Morsi might be seeking a way to de-escalate the crisis.
On Thursday, Morsi had also offered to hold talks with the opposition, but the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, rebuffed the offer, accusing him of "dividing Egyptians between his 'supporters of legitimacy'... and his opponents."
Prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN atomic agency chief and Nobel peace prize winner, reiterated in a televised address late Friday that dialogue could only happen if Morsi agreed to "repeal the decree" and postpone the referendum.
"If Morsi takes these steps, I know there will be a way, through dialogue and mutual understanding, for all of Egypt, Islamic and Christian, to sit together," ElBaradei said.
The opposition sees Morsi's decree as a brazen power grab, and the draft constitution as an attempt to quash Egypt's secular underpinnings in favour of Islamic aspirations.
Demonstrators on Cairo's streets said they were determined to stop Morsi.
"Before the violence, I just wanted Morsi to repeal his decree and cancel the referendum. But now that blood has been spilt, he has to go," said Sahar al-Shazli, 27, a veil covering her face.
"Morsi won't back down and neither will we," said demonstrator Sharif Qasem outside the palace. "Those who are steadfast the longest will win."
But determination flashed just as brightly among the president's supporters.
At a Cairo funeral on Friday for several of the seven people killed this week and said to be Muslim Brotherhood members, his backers dismissed the public protests against the president.
"All the people are with us, with the (draft) constitution," said one Brotherhood supporter attending the service in the Al-Azhar mosque.
That unquestioning backing was not shared by Egypt's top Islamic body, which on Thursday called on Morsi to suspend the decree.
The United States and European Union have called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Saturday, December 8th 2012
Ines Bel Aiba and Mona Salem

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