Egypt descends into political turmoil
RAW VISION: Supporters and opponents of Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi fight with rocks, firebombs and sticks in Cairo.PT0M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2awp5 620 349 December 6, 2012
CAIRO: Supporters of Egypt's Islamist President, Mohammed Mursi, have torn down tents and forced opposition protesters to flee the presidential palace as his deputy said a vote on a disputed constitution would go ahead in 10 days.
Skirmishes broke out after thousands of Islamists rallying to the call of the Muslim Brotherhood bore down on the presidential palace, chanting that they would "cleanse" the area of the opposition demonstrators.
The opposition protesters ran away as they can't face our strength.Wael Ali, supporter of Dr Mursi
The two sides threw stones at each other before the secular-leaning protesters, who had besieged the palace in their tens of thousands on Tuesday, escaped into side streets, an AFP photographer said.
Violence boils over ... an injured opposition protester runs as he is surrounded by supporters of the President. Photo: AFP
Opponents of Dr Mursi reject a November 22 presidential decree granting him sweeping new powers, and a draft constitution rushed through by an Islamist-dominated panel which will go to a referendum on December 15.
The general secretary of the constitution referendum supreme committee, Zaghloul El-Balshi, resigned on Wednesday, less than two days after he was appointed by Dr Mursi, Ahram online reported.
“I will not participate in a referendum that spilled Egyptian blood,” Mr El-Balshi said in a television interview late on Wednesday.
But as the clashes took place outside, the vice-president, Mahmoud Mekki, told reporters at the Itihadiya palace the vote "will go ahead on time".
Divided nation ... members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Dr Mursi move barricades as they clash with protesters near the presidential palace. Photo: AFP
The opposition, he said, would be allowed to put any objections to articles of the constitution in writing, to be discussed by a parliament yet to be elected.
"This is not a formal initiative but a personal idea," Mr Mekki said, insisting on the need for dialogue and consensus. "There is a real political will to respond to the demands of the opposition," he told journalists.
Tens of thousands of opposition protesters had encircled the palace on Tuesday demanding that Dr Mursi go, opposing the charter and, in some cases, calling for a boycott of the referendum.
Islamist rallies converged outside the palace, where hundreds of anti-Mursi protesters had spent the night, forcing the opposition to leave the area.
"They [Islamists] attacked us, broke up our tents, and I was beaten up," said Eman Ahmed, 47. "They accused us of being traitors."
Mursi supporters painted over graffiti sprayed onto the palace walls by Tuesday's protesters.
"These are the worst words I've ever seen. It is not good to express opinions with curses and insults to the elected president," said 50-year-old Mohamed Abdel Moneim.
Protesters from the male-dominated Islamist marches harassed television news crews, trying to prevent them from working, an AFP correspondent said.
"I'm here to defend democracy. The president was elected by the ballot box. The opposition protesters ran away as they can't face our strength," said Wael Ali, a 40-year-old Mursi supporter with a long beard.
As the country faces its most divisive crisis since Dr Mursi took power in June, the United States called for an open and "democratic dialogue".
"The upheaval we are seeing . . . indicates that dialogue is urgently needed. It needs to be two-way," the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, told journalists in Brussels.
"Not one side talking at another side, but actual respectful exchanges of views and concerns among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution," she said.
On Tuesday, the protesters demanded Dr Mursi's departure in scenes not witnessed even during demonstrations that toppled the former president Hosni Mubarak.
Dr Mursi returned to work in the presidential palace on Wednesday morning, his aide told AFP. He had left "on schedule" after his meetings on Tuesday and went back to his house in a Cairo suburb, the interior ministry had said.