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Egypt set for referendum; streets reflect divisions

CAIRO: A divided Egypt is being called to vote in a referendum tomorrow on a new constitution.
The country’s powerful army, which ruled for 16 months following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak early last year, has tried in vain to bring government and opposition together for talks to calm the crisis.
Fears of violence remain after violent clashes in Cairo last week in which eight people were killed and more than 600 injured.
President Muhammad Mursi has ordered the referendum to be split over two consecutive Saturdays because many judges are refusing to monitor voting.
The opposition National Salvation Front on Wednesday said it was urging its supporters to vote “no” — but also said it could call a last-minute boycott if the referendum was not brought back to just one day of voting, and if judges and independent observers did not monitor every polling station.
According to an Interior Ministry official, 130,000 police officers will be deployed, along with troops, to ensure security during the vote.
Mursi has ordered the army to secure state institutions, giving it powers of arrest until the referendum result is known.
The referendum outcome was uncertain, though many analysts thought it likely to pass, given the Brotherhood’s efficiency in mobilizing Egypt’s vast poorer segment of society.
Saturday will see voters in 10 governorates called to polling stations, including in the two biggest cities of Cairo and Alexandria.
On Dec. 22 it will be the turn of Giza, Port Said, Luxor and 14 other regions.
Egyptians abroad have already started early voting in embassies and consulates, the official MENA news agency reported.

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