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Thousands gather at Al-Azhar to support Mursi

CAIRO: Thousands of President Mursi’s backers gathered outside the country’s most respected Islamic institution for a funeral for two men killed in Wednesday’s bloody clashes.
Egypt’s simmering political crisis showed no signs of letting up the day after Mursi responded to the violence outside his palace with a fiery speech denouncing his opponents. The opposition turned down his appeal for talks, saying the president had not fulfilled their conditions for beginning negotiations.
At the funeral held by Mursi’s backers after midday prayers at Al-Azhar mosque, Egypt’s premier Islamic institution, a Muslim cleric denounced anti-Mursi protesters as “traitors.” Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were “murderers.” In a twist on a revolutionary chant from the 2011 uprising, they also yelled for “bread, freedom, and Islamic law.”
Amid the rival rallies and marches in Cairo and in the cities of Alexandria and Luxor, the public standoff continued over what opponents call the President’s power grab.
In a televised address late Thursday, Mursi refused to call off the vote on the disputed constitution. He accused some in the opposition of serving remnants of Mubarak’s regime and vowed he would never tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his government.
He also invited the opposition to a dialogue starting today at his palace. Mursi’s opponents replied they would not talk until Mursi cancels his decrees.
The president’s remarks were his first comments to the public after bloody clashes outside his palace on Wednesday, when thousands of his backers from the Muslim Brotherhood fought with the president’s opponents. Six people were killed and at least 700 injured.
The speech brought shouts of “the people want to topple the regime!” from the crowd of 30,000 Mursi opponents gathered outside his palace — the same chant heard in the protests that brought down Mubarak.
Since the crisis erupted, the opposition has tried to forge a united front. The squabbling groups created a National Salvation Front to bring them together, naming Nobel laureate Muhammad ElBaradei, the country’s top reform campaigner, as its leader.
Speaking on the new umbrella group’s behalf, ElBaradei responded to Mursi’s speech in his own televised remarks, saying that current government showed reluctance in acting to stop Wednesday night’s bloodshed outside the palace.
After Friday prayers, protesters began marching to the palace from several different directions.
Protesters are demanding that Mursi rescind decrees that give him almost absolute power and push an Islamist-friendly constitution to a referendum on Dec. 15.

The decrees sparked a crisis that has boiled for more than two weeks. Demonstrations have reached the size and intensity of those that brought down President Hosni Mubarak early last year.

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