Backers and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi planned to stage rival mass protests on Friday, as the country was locked in a deepening crisis over the Islamist leader's grab for powers and his call for a referendum on a controversial draft constitution.
Opponents of the president gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, chanting slogans against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group. Thousands also marched to the president's palace. The protesters were joined by leading opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy.
"Down with Morsi Mubarak," chanted the protesters, implying that toppled in a popular revolt almost two years ago.
Several opposition groups said they would hold rallies across the country after Friday prayers, ignoring a call by Morsi for major political factions to meet on Saturday and hold "comprehensive national dialogue" talks.
Egypt's opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, said it would meet on Friday to review Morsi's call for a national dialogue to resolve the crisis, but later Friday confirmed that it would not be taking part.
"The National Salvation Front is not taking part in the dialogue, that is the official stance," said Ahmed Said, one of the leading members of the coalition who also heads the Liberal Free Egyptians Party, told Reuters.
Prominent reformist Mohamed ElBaradei and the Wafd party, both members of the liberal-minded coalition, said they would also not be taking part.
In a televised address late Thursday, Morsi said that a decree he issued last month, making all his decisions immune from judicial review, would be cancelled after the constitutional referendum scheduled for December 15, whatever the result of the vote.
The opposition has repeatedly demanded the decree be rescinded and the vote on the draft charter be suspended before any talks can take place.
The country's Islamists, meanwhile, called for a pro-Morsi to be staged near Cairo.
It was not immediately clear if Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood would be taking part in that rally.
Morsi's latest moves have exposed deep rifts within Egyptian society, almost two years after a popular revolt forced Hosny Mubarak to step down.
Supporters and opponents of the president had clashed earlier this week in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, with the violence leaving at least five people dead and 775 injured, according to government figures.
Officials had previously spoken of six fatalities.
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