Protests as Mursi leaves palace
Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside president Mohamed Mursi's palace in Cairo today, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, presidential sources said.
Police fired teargas at demonstrators angered by Mr Mursi's drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on December 15th. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.
Several thousand people had gathered nearby in what they dubbed "last warning" protests against Mr Mursi, who infuriated opponents with a November 22nd decree that expanded his powers. "The people want the downfall of the regime," the crowd chanted.
"The president left the palace," a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidential palace also said Mr Mursi had left the building.
Mr Mursi ignited a storm of unrest in his bid to prevent a judiciary still packed with appointees of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak from derailing a troubled political transition.
Riot police at the palace faced off against activists chanting "leave, leave" and holding Egyptian flags with "no to the constitution" written on them. Protesters had assembled near mosques in northern Cairo before marching towards the palace.
"Our marches are against tyranny and the void constitutional decree and we won't retract our position until our demands are met," said Hussein Abdel Ghany, a spokesman for an opposition coalition of liberal, leftist and other disparate factions.
Despite the latest protests, there has been only a limited response to opposition calls for a mass campaign of civil disobedience in the Arab world's most populous country and cultural hub, where many people yearn for a return to stability.
A few hundred protesters gathered earlier near Mr Mursi's house in a suburb east of Cairo, chanting slogans against his decree and against the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the president emerged to win a free election in June. Police closed the road to stop them from coming any closer, a security official said.
Opposition groups have accused Mr Mursi of making a dictatorial power grab to push through a constitution drafted by an assembly dominated by Islamists, with a the referendum planned for later this month.
Egypt's most widely read independent newspapers did not publish today in protest at Mr Mursi's "dictatorship". Banks closed early to let staff go home safely in case of trouble.
Abdelrahman Mansour in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cradle of the anti-Mubarak revolt, said: "The presidency believes the opposition is too weak and toothless. Today is the day we show them the opposition is a force to be reckoned with."
After winning post-Mubarak elections and pushing the Egyptian military out of the political driving seat it held for decades, the Islamists sense their moment has come to shape the future of Egypt, a longtime US ally whose 1979 peace treaty with Israel is a cornerstone of Washington's Middle East policy.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, who staged a huge pro-Mursi demonstration on Saturday, are confident that enough members of the judiciary will be available to oversee the mid-December referendum, despite calls by some judges for a boycott.