Mursi calls December 15 referendum, Islamists rally

Sat Dec 1, 2012 6:42pm EST
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By Tom Perry and Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi called a December 15 referendum on a new constitution, hoping to end protests over a decree expanding his powers, as at least 200,000 of his Islamist supporters rallied in Cairo on Saturday.

Approval of the constitution drafted by an assembly stacked with Mursi's Islamist allies will override the November 22 decree that temporarily shielded Mursi from judicial oversight and triggered statements of concern from Western governments.

The decree plunged Egypt into its worst crisis since Mursi won office in a June election and sparked countrywide protests and violence in which two people have been killed and hundreds injured. This hit an economy just showing signs of recovery.

"I renew my call for opening a serious national dialogue over the concerns of the nation, with all honesty and impartiality," said Mursi after receiving the final draft from the constituent assembly. "We must move beyond the period of confrontation and differences, and get on to productive work."

The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under President Hosni Mubarak. Yet drafting it has been divisive, exposing splits between newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.

Protesters in an open-ended sit-in in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which was also the focus of demonstrations against Mubarak, accuse Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood of trying to impose a flawed constitution.

Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said on Twitter that "struggle will continue" despite the referendum and that the draft constitution "undermines basic freedoms."

Liberal figures including former Arab League chief Amr Moussa pulled out of the constituent assembly last month, as did representatives of Egypt's Christian minority.   Continued...

Pro-Mursi protesters chant slogans in support of Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi while carrying a banner that reads, "We support you to purify the country" in Cairo December 1, 2012. Islamist crowds demonstrated in Cairo on Saturday in support of President Mohamed Mursi, who is racing through a constitution to try to defuse opposition fury over his newly expanded powers. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih