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Protesters again fill Egypt's Tahrir Square

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CAIRO, Egypt -- Protesters flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday in the second giant rally this week, angrily vowing to bring down a draft constitution approved by allies of President Mohammed Morsi, as Egypt appeared headed toward a volatile confrontation between the opposition and ruling Islamists.

The protests have highlighted an increasingly cohesive opposition leadership of prominent liberal and secular politicians trying to direct public anger against Morsi and the Islamists -- a contrast to the leaderless youth uprising last year that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The opposition announced plans for an intensified street campaign of protests and civil disobedience and even a possible march on Morsi's presidential palace to prevent him from calling a nationwide referendum on the draft, which it must pass to come into effect. Top judges announced Friday they may refuse to monitor any referendum, rendering it invalid.

If a referendum is called, "we will go to him at the palace and topple him," insisted one protester, Yasser Said, a businessman who said he voted for Morsi in last summer's presidential election.

Islamists are gearing up as well.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, drummed up supporters for its own rally Saturday. They said their turnout will show the public supports the push by the country's first freely elected president to quickly pass a constitution and provide stability after nearly two years of turmoil.

Brotherhood activists in several cities passed out fliers calling for people to come out and "support Islamic law." A number of Muslim clerics in Friday sermons in the southern city of Assiut called the president's opponents "enemies of God and Islam."

The week-old crisis has already seen clashes between the two camps that left two dead and hundreds injured. On Friday, the two sides rained stones and firebombs on each other in the cities of Alexandria and Luxor.

The Islamist-led assembly that worked on the draft for months passed it in a rushed, 16-hour session. The vote was abruptly moved up to pass the draft before Egypt's constitutional court rules on Sunday whether to dissolve the assembly. Liberal, secular and Christian members had quit the council to protest what they call Islamists' hijacking of the process.

The draft is to be sent to Morsi on Saturday to decide on a date for a referendum, possibly in mid-December.

The draft has a distinctive Islamic bent -- enough to cause many to worry civil liberties could be restricted, though its provisions for enforcing Shariah, or Islamic law, are not as firm as ultra-conservatives wished.

Protests started when Morsi last week issued decrees granting himself sweeping powers that neutralized the judiciary. Morsi said the move was needed to stop the courts from dissolving the assembly, but opponents accused Morsi of grabbing near-dictatorial powers by sidelining the one branch of government he doesn't control.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 A23

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