Egypt plunges into turmoil as protests rise

Updated: 2012-11-29 08:05

(Agencies/China Daily)

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Massive rallies held to denounce Morsi's decree giving himself sweeping powers

Egypt on Wednesday plunged deeper into its worst political crisis since President Mohammed Morsi took office in June, with massive opposition rallies nationwide signaling a new "revolution" nearly two years after Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

Police early on Wednesday fired tear gas into Cairo's Tahrir Square, where several hundred protesters spent the night after a mass rally to denounce Morsi's power grab.

Egypt plunges into turmoil as protests rise

A protester throws a tear-gas canister back during clashes with riot police in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Tuesday. Opponents of President Mohammed Morsi protested in the square for a fifth day, stepping up calls to scrap a decree they say threatens Egypt with a new era of autocracy. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters 

Clashes that have been erupting on streets just off Tahrir spilled into the square in the morning, with canisters falling into the crowd, forcing protesters to run and sending clouds of tear gas over the tents housing the demonstrators, television images showed.

Protesters are furious at the decree Morsi announced on Nov 15 that allows him to "issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal", which effectively placed him beyond judicial oversight.

The television footage showed masked protesters grabbing tear-gas canisters and throwing them back at police in a street close to the US embassy, off Tahrir.

Egypt's Supreme Consitutional Court on Wednesday accused Morsi of an unjustified attack on its independence when he gave his reasons for issuing the decree granting himself sweeping powers.

"There was an attack against the court, false information was circulated about it ... but the real sadness for its judges was that the president of the republic joined in the attack against the constitutional court," its head Maher al-Beheiry told reporters.

He denied Morsi's accusations that the court was biased or had leaked rulings to the media and called on the president to provide evidence.

On Tuesday, more than 200,000 protesters packed the square in the biggest challenge yet to Morsi.

Clashes broke out in several cities, with Morsi's opponents attacking Muslim Brotherhood offices, setting fire to at least one. Protesters and Brotherhood members pelted each other with stones and firebombs in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla el-Kobra, leaving at least 150 people injured.

At least three people have died in one week of clashes.

"Power has exposed the Brotherhood. We discovered their true face," said Laila Salah, a housewife at the Tahrir protest who said she voted for Morsi in last summer's presidential election. "It's like a wife whose husband was beating her and then she divorces him and becomes free," she said. "If she remarries, she'll never accept another day of abuse."

The massive, flag-waving throng protesting Morsi's assertion of near-absolute powers rivaled some of the largest crowds that helped drive Hosni Mubarak from office last year.

"The people want to bring down the government!" and "Erhal, erhal" - Arabic for "Leave, leave" - rang out across the plaza, this time directed at Egypt's first freely elected president.

US officials said Washington was closely following the drama unfolding in Egypt, with a warning that Cairo could put vast amounts of international aid at stake if it veers off the democratic course.

The situation was evolving, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "I think we don't yet know what the outcome (is) ... going to be. But that's a far cry from an autocrat just saying, my way or the highway," she said.

"We want to see Egypt continuing on a reform path to ensure that any money forthcoming from the IMF truly supports a stabilization and a revitalization of a dynamic economy based on market principles," Nuland said.

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said Egypt can still get its $4.8 billion loan - agreed last week - despite the turmoil as long as there is "no major change" in its reform commitments.

AFP - AP - Xinhua