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Mursi’s supporters reject referendum delay

CAIRO: Egypt’s main Islamist parties, including President Muhammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, rejected yesterday opposition demands to delay a Dec. 15 referendum on a new constitution they helped draft.
The 13 parties “insist that the referendum on the constitution take place on the scheduled date, with no modification or delay,” according to a joint statement read to media by Brotherhood’s Karat Al-Shatter.
The refusal butts up against opposition insistence that dialogue between it and Mursi’s government cannot begin unless Mursi postpones the referendum and gives up sweeping powers he assumed last month.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s powerful military put its foot down yesterday in the crisis dividing the nation by demanding that the Islamist-led government and political foes start dialogue — and warning it would not permit events to take a “disastrous” turn.
“The path of dialogue is the best and only way to reach agreement and achieve the interests of the nation and its citizens,” said a statement from the armed forces.
“The opposite of that will take us into a dark tunnel with disastrous results — and that is something we will not allow.”
Nightly protests degenerated into clashes this week between Mursi supporters and opponents leaving seven people dead and more than 640 injured.
That prompted the army to deploy tanks outside the presidential palace on Thursday to prevent further bloodshed.
The military underlined that it would maintain its neutral role and uphold its duty to protect state institutions, saying it “stands always with the great Egyptian people and insists on its unity”
It urged a solution based on “democratic rules.”
The military’s refusal to pick sides in the dispute recalled its hands-off position during the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak early last year.
The statement was issued after an ominous report in state newspaper Al-Ahram yesterday which said Mursi’s Cabinet had approved giving soldiers police powers to maintain public order, but that Mursi had not yet signed it into a decree.
In the past couple of days Mursi’s camp has also made some conciliatory gestures to the opposition.
Mursi himself offered late on Thursday to hold talks with the opposition, but that was rebuffed the next day by the National Salvation Front coalition ranged against him.
One of the Front’s leaders, Muhammad ElBaradei, a former UN atomic agency chief and Nobel Peace laureate, stressed on Friday that dialogue could only happen if Mursi first postponed the referendum and repealed the decree placing his decisions beyond judicial review.
Vice President Mahmud Mbeki said Mursi “could accept to delay the referendum,” but only if the opposition guaranteed it would not exploit the legal breach inherent in pushing it back.

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