Clashes on eve of Egypt referendum

2012-12-21 18:28
Egyptian riot police try to quell clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohammed Morsi in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. (AFP /STR)

Egyptian riot police try to quell clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohammed Morsi in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. (AFP /STR)

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Alexandria - Clashes between rival demonstrators erupted on Friday in Egypt's second city Alexandria, the eve of the final round of a referendum on a divisive new constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel.

Riot police, with orders to act "decisively," formed a barrier between several thousand Islamists and hundreds more opposition protesters and used tear gas to put down the street battles.

The clashes, in which the health ministry said 32 people were hurt, subsided after around 90 minutes.

In the first round held in half of Egypt last weekend, Alexandria voted in favour of the constitution. It has seen clashes break out on several occasions amid nationwide rallies for and against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Early this month in Cairo, the confrontations turned deadly outside of Morsi's palace. Eight people were killed and hundreds were wounded.

The army has since deployed 120 000 soldiers to bolster 130 000 police tasked with maintaining security during the volatile voting.

The secular-leaning opposition sees the proposed constitution as weakening human rights and opening the way to creeping strict sharia-style Islamic legislation under Morsi. It is urging a "no" vote in Saturday's second round.

Analysts said it was almost certain the new constitution would be adopted - but that such an outcome would not end Egypt's political crisis.

The ongoing instability is hurting Egypt's economy, which has been limping along since the popular uprising that ousted the 30-year autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak early last year.

The International Monetary Fund has put on hold a $4.8bn loan Egypt needs to stave off a currency collapse, and Germany has indefinitely postponed a plan to forgive $316m of Egypt's debt.

Sincere dialogue

The head of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition, former UN atomic energy agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, warned in an online video that "the country is on the verge of bankruptcy".

He said "a solution is still possible," as long as Morsi was prepared for "sincere dialogue" and allowed a whole new constitution to be drafted through a more inclusive process.

Supporters of both sides have taken to the streets to sway voters to their side of the debate in the run-up to the second round of the referendum.

In Giza, a southwestern Cairo district that will vote on Saturday, an opposition campaign volunteer who give his first name as Maher said he pointed out to people in the street those who remain "committed to the revolution and who betrayed it" - implying that Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had let down the country.

A pro-constitution campaigner there, Abdallah Hassan, said his counter pitch was to inform people of "the benefits that will come out of this constitution by voting 'yes'," principally stability after so many months of turmoil.

Observers said that even if the draft charter were adopted, it would do nothing to resolve the festering political confrontation.

"Everything suggests the vote will go the way the Muslim Brotherhood wants... But the misleading conclusion it will take away is that there is an overwhelming victory allowing it to continue on its chosen path," Hassan Nafaa, an analyst and commentator, said in the newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm.

Read more on:    egypt  |  north africa  |  egypt elections 2012
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