Egyptian army to host unity talks as crisis deepens

Tue Dec 11, 2012 6:09pm EST
 
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By Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's army chief will host national unity talks on Wednesday, seeking to end a growing political and economic crisis in the Arab world's most populous nation.

The meeting scheduled for 1430 GMT was called in response to a wave of protests since President Mohamed Mursi awarded himself sweeping powers on November 22 to push through a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies, which is due to go to a referendum on Saturday.

"We will not speak about politics nor about the referendum. Tomorrow we will sit together as Egyptians," armed forces chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at a gathering of army and police officials on Tuesday.

Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled him to power in a June election, were expected to attend, while the main opposition coalition said it would decide on Wednesday morning whether to participate. The opposition stayed away from an earlier reconciliation meeting called by Mursi last weekend.

The judiciary committee overseeing the vote decided late on Tuesday that the referendum would be conducted on two days instead of one, as previously planned.

"The committee had officially asked the President to issue a law approving that the referendum takes place on two stages on Saturday December 15 and Saturday December 22," Judge Mahmoud Abu Shousha, a member of the referendum judiciary committee, said. Voting for Egyptians living abroad starts on Wednesday.

"The reason for the splitting of the vote into two stages is due to a shortage of judges needed to supervise the ballot stations," another member of the committee, who asked not to be named, said.

Many judges had decided in a joint meeting on Tuesday to not supervise the vote on a constitution they say had divided the country into two groups.   Continued...

 
An Anti-Mursi protester, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, stands in front of the presidential palace in Cairo December 10, 2012. Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi has given the army temporary power to arrest civilians during a constitutional referendum he is determined to push through despite the risk of bloodshed between his supporters and opponents accusing him of a power grab. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany