CAIRO - Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested against President Mohamed Morsi on Friday after an Islamist-led assembly raced through approval of a new constitution in a bid to end a crisis over the Islamist leader's newly expanded powers.

"The people want to bring down the regime," they chanted in Tahrir Square, echoing the chants that rang out in the same place less than two years ago and brought down Hosni Mubarak.



Morsi said a decree halting court challenges to his decisions, which sparked eight days of protests and violence by Egyptians calling him a new dictator, was "for an exceptional stage" and aimed to speed up the democratic transition.

"It will end as soon as the people vote on a constitution," he told state television while the constituent assembly was still voting on a draft, which the Islamists say reflects Egypt's new freedoms. "There is no place for dictatorship."

But the opposition cried foul. Liberals, leftists, Christians, more moderate Muslims and others had withdrawn from the assembly, saying their voices were not being heard.

Even in the mosque where Morsi said Friday prayers some opponents chanted "Morsi: void" before sympathizers surrounded him shouting in support, journalists and a security source said.

Tens of thousands gathered across the country, filling Tahrir Square and hitting the streets in Alexandria and other cities, responding to opposition calls for a big turnout. Rival demonstrators clashed after dark in Alexandria and the Nile Delta town of Al-Mahala Al-Kobra, some hurling rocks in anger.

An opposition leaflet distributed on Tahrir urged protesters in Cairo to stay overnight before Saturday's rallies by Islamists; the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies said they would avoid the square during their demonstrations backing Morsi.

The disparate opposition, which has struggled to compete with well-organized Islamists, has been drawn together and reinvigorated by the crisis. Tens of thousands had also protested on Tuesday, showing the breadth of public anger.

Protesters said they would push for a 'no' vote in a constitutional referendum, which could happen as early as mid-December. If the new basic law were approved, it would immediately cancel the president's decree.

"We fundamentally reject the referendum and constituent assembly because the assembly does not represent all sections of society," said Sayed el-Erian, 43, a protester in Tahrir and member of a party set up by opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei.

The assembly concluded the vote after a 19-hour session, faster than many expected, approving all 234 articles of the draft, covering presidential powers, the status of Islam, the military's role and human rights.

It introduces a presidential term limit of eight years - Mubarak served for 30. It also bring in a degree of civilian oversight over the military - though not enough for critics.

An Egyptian official said Morsi was expected to approve the document on Saturday and then has 15 days to hold a referendum.


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