Egypt: 10 injured as gunmen fire at protesters ahead of rival rallies

Egypt headed for another round of slugfest between largely secular opposition groups and Islamists backing President Muhammed Mursi, as at least ten people were injured.

Cairo: Egypt headed for another round of slugfest between largely secular opposition groups and Islamists backing President Muhammed Mursi, as at least ten people were injured on Tuesday when gunmen fired at protesters at the iconic Tahrir Square here ahead of massive rival rallies.

On the day which many people believe will be decisive in the current political crisis in Egypt, at least 10 protesters were injured in an armed attack at Tahrir Square, where an open-ended sit-in has been staged since November 23. Unknown attackers fired birdshots at protesters in the square.

Nine people suffered injuries to their arms and legs, while one protester suffered a head injury, a Health Ministry official said.

The attack caused a wave of chaos in the square, with protesters chanting "the people want the fall of the regime" in response, before calm eventually returned.

Security across the capital was tightened and police deployed anti-riot vehicles in central Cairo after the firing ahead of a December 15 referendum on a new Islamist constitution.

Mursi today amended a law so that voters cannot cast their ballots outside their electoral districts, as they had in the past. Being able to vote anywhere had been a convenience, a presidential statement said, but it creates a burden on electoral officials.

The purpose of limiting voting to one`s own district avoids "concerns about the fairness of the electoral process," the statement said.

Earlier, the government granted the military the power to make arrests during the electoral period, a power previously limited to police.

The move is designed to secure the voting process and will be rolled back once the election results are published, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.

The present political turmoil began after President Mursi granted himself absolute powers through the November 22 decree that had put his decisions beyond judicial review, a move which gained him titles like "dictator" and "Pharaoh".

Mursi tried to calm protests by annulling the decree, but decided to go ahead with the December 15 referendum on a new constitution as scheduled.

Egypt`s Constituent Assembly on November 30 in a marathon session approved a draft constitution imposing Islamic values, a move opposed by Liberals as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech and religion in the country.

According to Egyptian state TV, the articles passed, stipulated that Islam is the religion of the state, and the principles of Sharia, or Islamic law, are the "main source of legislation".

Opposition parties rejected the referendum and called for massive march towards presidential palace to protest it.

So far, seven people have been killed in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opposition supporters who are also besieging Mursi`s presidential palace.

The military has warned of "disastrous consequences" if the political crisis gripping the country was not resolved through dialogue and urged all political forces to pursue dialogue.

Popular committees charged with securing the square spread around its main entrance for fear of the renewal of the attack. Police cars were deployed around the periphery of the square for the first time since the sit-in started.

Mohamed Refaa al-Tahtawi, chief of the presidential staff, warned against any attempts to storm the presidential palace, describing such actions as "crimes that should be confronted".

"The Ministry of Interior had not been able to do its part and secure the Ittihadiya Palace, which prompted the President`s supporters to play that role", he was quoted as saying by an Egyptian news channel yesterday.

He stressed that those defending the palace were peaceful demonstrators and did not start the clashes with opponents.

Presidential Guards forces have finished erecting a stone barrier at Merghany Street and the Orouoba Tunnel in Helipolis to block entrances to the presidential palace, according to state-run MENA news agency.

The forces, assisted by Central Security, also installed metal barricades and barbed wires, only leaving a few spots for residents of the area to pass.

The referendum on the resulting constitution is due to take place on December 15, amid polarisation between supporting Islamist forces and opposing secular ones, especially after a violent confrontation between the two groups that took place on December 5 next to the presidential palace.

Political forces, including the National Salvation Front, has planned to march to the presidential palace from a number of prominent squares and mosques around Cairo today as part of a "million man" protest.

The demonstrations are demanding the cancellation of the constitutional referendum slated for this week and protest against the new constitutional declaration, which President Mursi issued on Saturday.

The marches will head to the palace from locations in Nasr City, Abbasseya and Heliopolis, according to state-run media.

Meanwhile, the Islamist Forces Coalition, which includes Islamist groups and parties, announced in a statement yesterday that they will stage two protests today supporting constitution and "legitimacy" around the presidential palace.

Khaled Saeed, spokesperson of the Salafi Front, told the Al-Jazeera channel, that they will stage two protests today to support the constitutional declaration and referendum.

Saeed said they will be committed to keeping the protests peaceful and that there will be no clashes with President Mursi`s opponents.

The Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian Student Union had announced it would participate in a mass demonstration planned for Tuesday to show support for Mursi and the referendum on the new constitution.

The Salafi Nour Party had also changed its earlier decision and decided to attend the supporting demonstrations.


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