Morsi Announces Date for Referendum

President Mohammed Morsi calls a December 15 referendum on the controversial draft constitution. Protests for and against him continue.

Elad Benari ,

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi
AFP photo

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called on Egyptians on Saturday to vote in a December 15 referendum on the controversial draft constitution at the heart of a political crisis, AFP reported.

Morsi made the announcement following a ceremony where he received a copy of the charter from the head of the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, boycotted by liberals and Christians, that adopted it the day before.

Hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied from early on Saturday in support of Morsi's new expanded powers and the contested charter, which has taken center stage in the country's worst political crisis since his election in June.

The crowds flooded the squares and large avenues near Cairo University, led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket Morsi ran for office, and by hardline Salafists, causing traffic jams in the capital.

On Friday, opponents of the draft constitutions had massed in Tahrir Square, demonstrating the country's widening polarization.

Pro-Morsi protests were also staged in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the central Egyptian province of Assiut, reported AFP.

In Cairo, one demonstrator died and 24 others were injured when a tree fell near the main stage near the university, the report said.

Across the Nile River, hundreds of protesters camping out in Tahrir Square since Morsi issued a decree assuming sweeping powers were joined by more demonstrators throughout the day.

The National Rescue Front, a coalition of opponents led by former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, has called on the decree's opponents to keep up the pressure.

It said Egyptians should "reject the illegitimate" decree and the "void" draft constitution, and stressed the public's right "to use any peaceful method to protest including a general strike and civil disobedience."

The crisis was sparked when Morsi issued the decree on November 22, giving himself sweeping powers and placing his decisions beyond judicial review, provoking mass protests and a judges' strike.

His decree prevented the top legal body the Supreme Constitutional Court from potentially dissolving the Islamist-run constituent assembly, in a ruling it was to make on Sunday on the body's legality.

In an interview broadcast on Thursday night, Morsi again stressed that his new powers would expire once the constitution was ratified, a point Islamist supporters have repeatedly made in his favor.