Egypt demonstrators reject Morsi call for dialogue

Morsi says constitutional referendum on track for December 15; Obama expresses deep concern over violence.

Protesters outside Egyptian presidential palace 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protesters outside Egyptian presidential palace 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - Demonstrators rejected a call from Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi for a national dialogue after deadly clashes around his palace, demanding the "downfall of the regime" - the chant that brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi said in a televised speech late on Thursday that plans were on track for a referendum on a new constitution on December 15 despite clashes that killed seven people. He proposed a meeting on Saturday with political leaders, "revolutionary youth" and legal figures to discuss the way forward after that.
But a leading activist group rejected the offer, and fresh demonstrations were called for Friday.
The "April 6" movement, which played a prominent role in igniting the revolt against Mubarak said on its Facebook page that Friday's protests would deliver a "red card" to Morsi.
US President Barack Obama called Morsi on Thursday to express his "deep concern" about the deaths and injuries of protesters in Egypt and said dialogue between opposing sides should be held without preconditions, the White House said.
"The president emphasized that all political leaders in Egypt should make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable," the White House said in a statement.
"He welcomed President Morsi's call for a dialogue with the opposition, but stressed that such a dialogue should occur without preconditions. The president noted that the United States has also urged opposition leaders to join in this dialogue without preconditions."
Egypt has been plunged into turmoil since Morsi issued a decree on November 22 awarding himself wide powers and shielding his decisions from judicial review.
His Islamist supporters say the decree was necessary to prevent Mubarak-era judges from interfering with reforms. A constitution drawn up by a body dominated by Islamists is due to be put to a referendum next week.
The opposition has demanded that Morsi scrap his decree, postpone the referendum and redraft the constitution.
In his address, Morsi said: "I call for a full, productive dialogue with all figures and heads of parties, revolutionary youth and senior legal figures to meet this Saturday."
Several thousand opposition protesters near the palace waved their shoes in derision after his speech and shouted "Killer, killer" and "We won't go, he will go" - another of the slogans used against Mubarak in last year's revolt.
The Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled Morsi to victory in a June election, was set ablaze. Other offices of its political party were attacked.
Tentative concession
The United States, worried about the stability of an Arab partner which has a peace deal with Israel and which receives $1.3 billion a year in US military aid, had urged dialogue.
Morsi said his entire decree would lapse after the constitutional referendum, regardless of its result.
He said a new constituent assembly would be formed to redraft the constitution if Egyptians rejected the one written in the past six months.
The Republican Guard, an elite unit whose duties include protecting the presidential palace, restored peace on Thursday after a night of violence outside the palace, ordering rival demonstrators to leave by mid-afternoon.
Morsi supporters withdrew, but opposition protesters remained, kept away by a barbed wire barricade guarded by tanks. By evening their numbers had swelled to several thousand.
Thousands of supporters and opponents of Morsi had fought well into Thursday's early hours, using rocks, petrol bombs and guns. Officials said 350 were wounded in the violence. Six of the dead were Morsi supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood said.
Opposition groups have called for protests after Friday prayers aimed at "the downfall of the militia regime," a dig at what they see as the Brotherhood's organized street muscle.
A communique from a leftist group urged protesters to gather at mosques and squares across Egypt, and to stage marches in Cairo and its sister city Giza, converging on the presidential palace. "Egyptian blood is a red line," the communique said.
Hardline Islamist Salafis also summoned their supporters to protest against what they consider biased coverage of the crisis by some private Egyptian satellite television channels.
Since Morsi issued his decree, six of his advisers have resigned. Essam al-Amir, the director of state television, quit on Thursday, as did a Christian official at the presidency.
The Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, called for unity, saying divisions "only serve the nation's enemies".
The Islamists, who have won presidential and parliamentary elections since Mubarak was overthrown, are confident they can win the referendum and the parliamentary election to follow.
As well as relying on his Brotherhood power base, Morsi may also tap into a popular yearning for stability and economic revival after almost two years of political turmoil.
Egypt's pound hit an eight-year low on Thursday, reversing gains made on hopes that a $4.8 billion IMF loan would stabilize the economy. The stock market fell 4.6 percent.