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Egypt's opposition: Morsi is risking 'violent confrontation'

President Mohamed Morsi rescinded a decree that gave himself sweeping powers, but has not budged on a Dec. 15 date for a constitutional referendum that opponents want delayed.

By Alistair LyonReuters, Tamim ElyanReuters / December 9, 2012

Egyptian protesters push army soldiers standing guard in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday. Egypt's liberal opposition called for more protests Sunday, seeking to keep up the momentum of its street campaign after the president made a partial concession overnight but refused its main demand he rescind a draft constitution going to a referendum on Dec. 15.

Nasser Nasser/AP

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Cairo

Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Morsi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation."

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President Morsi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

"We are against this process from start to finish," Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

The Front's main leaders – Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy – did not attend the event.

Hundreds of protesters milled around Morsi's palace, despite tanks, barbed wire, and other barriers installed last week after clashes between Islamists and their rivals killed seven people.

"Holding a referendum now in the absence of security reflects haste and an absence of a sense of responsibility on the part of the regime, which risks pushing the country towards violent confrontation," a statement from the Front said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Morsi from obscurity to power, urged the opposition to accept the referendum's verdict.

Islamists say the vote will seal a democratic transition that began when a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak 22 months ago after three decades of military-backed one-man rule.

Their liberal, leftist, and Christian adversaries say the document being fast-tracked through could threaten freedoms and fails to embrace the diversity of Egypt's 83 million people.

'Act of war'

Morsi had given some ground on Saturday when he annulled the fiercely contested decree issued on Nov. 22 that gave him extra powers and shielded his decisions from judicial review.

But some measures taken under the decree remain in force and the president has insisted the referendum go ahead on Dec. 15.

Liberal opposition leader Ahmed Said earlier described the race to a referendum as an "act of war" against Egyptians.

Egypt is torn between Islamists, who were suppressed for decades, and their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms. Many Egyptians just crave stability and economic recovery.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the scrapping of Morsi's decree had removed any reason for controversy.

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