Morsi, opposition called to meet on crisis

2012-12-12 15:44
Egyptian protesters gather near the presidential palace in Cairo. (Mahmoud Khaled, AFP)

Egyptian protesters gather near the presidential palace in Cairo. (Mahmoud Khaled, AFP)

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Cairo - Egypt's army has invited President Mohamed Morsi and his opposition to a national unity meeting on Wednesday in a bid to resolve a deep crisis over an imminent referendum that officials said would now be split over a week.

The appeal followed mass overnight demonstrations in Cairo by the rival camps that highlighted the divisions in Egypt over the referendum on a new constitution drafted largely by Morsi's Islamist allies.

Those protests passed off peacefully, but fears subsisted that the struggle could descend again into the violence seen on the capital's streets last week, when clashes between rival protesters left seven dead and hundreds injured.

Morsi has rejected opposition demands that the referendum be postponed.

On Wednesday, the country's electoral commission said the plebiscite would go ahead as planned on Saturday, 15 December, but that a second regional round of voting would take place a week later, on 22 December.

The decision to split the referendum followed an announcement by a key group of judges who said they would not oversee the vote. Pro-Morsi judges would be stretched thin monitoring the referendum.

Some of the estimated 500 000 Egyptian voters living abroad have begun voting in the referendum in embassies and consulates in 150 countries, the official MENA news agency reported. The overseas voting had been delayed for four days.

US-based group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, called for an investigation into the alleged "detention and abuse" of several dozen anti-Morsi protesters by Islamists during the bloody clashes that erupted on 5 December.

Faced with a situation that could spiral out of hand, Egypt's army is trying to bring both sides together to begin talks.

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