Egypt's Morsi meets with army chief to discuss stabilization
Republican guard sets 3 P.M. deadline for protesters to evacuate grounds near presidential palace; Five were killed, more than 350 injured in clashes between protesters and police as Morsi deputy seeks an end to the crisis.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met the army chief and cabinet ministers on Thursday to discuss how to stabilize the nation after clashes between his supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace, the presidency said in a statement.
Morsi met General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is the head of the military and defense minister. Egypt's prime minister, interior and justice ministers, and others were also present at the meeting.
They discussed "means to deal with the situation on different political, security and legal levels to stabilize Egypt and protect the gains of the revolution", according to the statement issued on Morsi's official website.
At least four tanks deployed outside the Egyptian presidential palace Thursday on a street where supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi had been clashing, witnesses said.
Three armored troop carriers were also in the street outside the palace. The soldiers' badges identified them as members of the Republican Guard, whose duties include guarding the presidency.
Egypt's Republican Guard ordered rival demonstrators to leave the area around the presidential palace on Thursday after fierce clashes that killed seven people, and Islamists began to comply.
The presidency announced that the Republican Guard, whose duties include protecting the palace, had set a 3 P.M. deadline for supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi to quit an area they had turned into a battleground.
The violence, which stretched from Wednesday afternoon into the early hours of Thursday abated later in the morning and the streets were calm. It was the bloodiest confrontation since Egypt's latest political turmoil erupted on Nov. 22 with President Mohammed Morsi assuming near absolute powers.
Six people, including a reporter, were killed in clashes between opponents and backers of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo, a Health Ministry official said Thursday. In a statement the same day, Egypt's Interior Ministry said the dead numbered at least three.
The statement also said 276 people were injured in the street battles outside the presidential palace in the city's Heliopolis district, including 35 policemen.Mohammed Sultan, the director of the government ambulance service said at least 350 people had been injured, several of them seriously.
With the arrival of the tanks and troops, traffic again moved through streets strewn with rocks thrown during the violence. Hundreds of Morsi supporters were still in the area, many wrapped in blankets and some reading the Koran.
Previous attempts by riot police to quell the violence had been unsuccessful, and protestors threw stones and petrol bombs at each other outside the presidential palace through the night. Fires burned in the streets.
Morsi's opponents accused him of creating a new autocracy by awarding himself extraordinary powers in a decree on November 22 and were further angered when an Islamist-dominated assembly pushed through a draft constitution that opponents said did not properly represent the aspirations of the whole nation.
The United States, worried about the stability of a state that has a peace deal with Israel and to which it gives $1.3 billion in military aid each year, called for dialogue.
A presidential source said Morsi was expected to make a statement later on Thursday. His opponents had earlier called on him to address the nation to help calm the streets.
In a bid to end the worst crisis since Morsi took office less than six months ago, Mekky said amendments to disputed articles in the constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then go to parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on December 15.
"There must be consensus," he told a news conference inside the presidential palace as fighting raged outside on Wednesday evening, saying opposition demands had to be respected.
Protests across Egypt
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil called for calm to "give the opportunity" for efforts underway to start a national dialogue.
Protests spread to other cities, and offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party in Ismailia and Suez were torched. But Morsi has shown no sign of bowing to the pressure, confident that the Islamists, who have dominated both elections since Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011, can win the referendum and parliamentary election to follow.
On top of the support of the Brotherhood, which backed him for the presidency in the June election, Morsi may also be able to rely on a popular yearning for stability and economic revival after almost two years of political turmoil.
Egypt's opposition coalition blamed Morsi for the violence and said it was ready for dialogue if the Islamist leader scrapped the decree that gave him wide powers and shielded his decisions from judicial review.
"Today what is happening in the Egyptian street, polarization and division, is something that could and is actually drawing us to violence and could draw us to something worse," opposition coordinator Mohamed ElBaradei said on Wednesday.
"We are ready for dialogue if the constitutional decree is cancelled ... and the referendum on this constitution is postponed," he told a news conference.
But liberals, leftists, Christians, ex-Mubarak followers and others opposed to Morsi have yet to generate a mass movement or a grassroots base to challenge the Brotherhood.
Calls for calm
Opposition leaders have previously urged Morsi to retract the decree, defer the referendum and agree to revise the constitution, but have not echoed calls from street protesters for his overthrow and the "downfall of the regime".
Mursi has said his decree was needed to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by Mubarak from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt's political transition.
Mekky said street mobilization by both sides posed a "real danger" to Egypt. "If we do not put a stop to this phenomenon right away ... where are we headed? We must calm down."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on Egypt's political debate, saying dialogue was urgently needed on the new constitution, which should "respect the rights of all citizens".
Clinton and Mursi worked together last month to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for restraint on all sides. He said Egypt's authorities had to make progress on the transition in an "inclusive manner" and urged dialogue.
Both Islamists and their opponents have staged big shows of strength on the streets since Mursi's decree, each bringing out tens of thousands of people. State institutions, with the partial exception of the judiciary, have mostly fallen in behind Morsi.
Before Thursday, the army had stayed in its bunkers in an apparent effort to stay out of politics.