Cairo: Slamming Egyptian President’s move to assume sweeping powers as an "unprecedented attack" on the judiciary, the country’s judges on Saturday called for a nationwide strike to protest against Mohammed Mursi`s decree.
Meanwhile, tensions flared up in the country where courts went on strike and tear gas was fired to disperse protesters.
The presidential decree issued on Thursday brought pro-democracy protesters back to Cairo`s Tahrir Square as unrest spread to all corners of Egypt over Mursi`s attempts to assume what many see as absolute and pharaoh-like powers.
Joining in the chorus, Egypt`s highest judicial authority today criticised the decree that makes Mursi`s decisions immune to judicial oversight.
The new constitutional declaration is "an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings," the Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement.
Courts and prosecution offices in the Delta governorate of Qalioubiya as well as in Egypt`s second-largest city, Alexandria, went on strike demanding the cancellation of the constitutional declaration.
The Judges Club of Alexandria announced "the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira" and said it will "accept nothing less than the cancellation of (Mursi`s decree)".
At Tahrir Square, a group of opposition activists spent the night and erected some 30 tents. But when more demonstrators attempted to join them this morning, police fired tear gas canisters, forcing them to retreat.
Nearly two years after a popular unrest spurred former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak`s fall, people have taken to Egypt`s streets in the past days to once again call for a revolution, this time to oust the "new pharaoh" Mursi.
Mursi has insisted that the new powers were aimed at rooting out the "weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt", referring to Mubarak-era officials.
He sought to assure the people that the country had not dithered from the path of democracy. However, his opponents who clashed with his supporters yesterday, were calling for yet another regime change. On Thursday, Mursi announced that courts could not overturn any decree or law he has issued since taking office in June and, beyond that, in the six months until a new Constitution is finalised.
He also fired Egypt`s general prosecutor, who has been criticised for the insufficient prosecutions of those suspected in demonstrators` deaths in 2011.
Tents dotted Cairo`s iconic Tahrir Square today, just as they did during the 2011 uprising, and clashes between protesters and police were reported in the capital, the port city of Alexandria and elsewhere in the country.
Thousands of his supporters and opponents yesterday took to streets to stage rival rallies, leading to sporadic violence and burning down of offices belonging to the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
Following Mursi`s decision to seize more power for himself through a decree, the US has expressed concern for Egyptians and for the international communities.
Minor clashes also broke out when demonstrators on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square threw rocks at security forces, who fired back with tear gas.
Insisting upon the need to root out what he called "weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt", Mursi had said yesterday: "I don`t like, want or need to resort to exceptional measures, but I will if I see that my people, nation and the revolution of Egypt are in danger".
Mursi, who had been buoyed by accolades recently for mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel, had also ordered on Thursday that an Assembly dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood writing the new Constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.
His announcement led to clashes in several cities between supporters and opponents of Egypt`s President, a clear show of the deepening polarisation plaguing the country.
In the largest rally yesterday, thousands of chanting protesters packed Cairo`s Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution, demanding Mursi to quit and accusing him of launching a "coup".
Among the protesters was Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He tweeted yesterday that Mursi had "appointed himself Egypt`s new pharaoh".
In Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, protests turned violent. At least 100 people were wounded in clashes between supporters and opponents of the President.
The headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party were attacked in five cities including Alexandria and Port Said even as hundreds of Mursi`s supporters rallied outside the presidential palace to express support for him.
(With PTI inputs)