Egyptian opposition asks people to vote 'No' in referendum
Cairo: In a shift in stance, Egypt's main opposition on Wednesday asked people to vote in 'No' in the referendum on the controversial draft constitution but demanded that the poll be held on a single day and under full judicial supervision.
In a related development, army postponed the planned reconciliation talks scheduled during the day between Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and the largely secular opposition for an unspecified later date.
"We call on citizens to vote 'No' in the referendum on the constitution," the National Salvation Front, alliance of opposition parties, said in a statement.
The Front, which earlier had called for a boycott of the referendum, asked "Egyptians to go to polling stations to refuse the proposed constitution and to vote no."
The statement came shortly after the Egyptian Central Election Commission announced that the vote on the draft constitution would be held on two different dates -- on December 15 and December 22. Earlier, the election was be held only on December 15.
While asking the people to vote in 'No' in the referendum, the largely secular opposition set several conditions, including demanding that the referendum be held over a single day.
According to Aljazeera TV news channel, the opposition also demanded that there be full judicial supervision of the process and that international and local NGOs be allowed to monitor it.
The armed forces, in a statement, said the planned meeting aimed at building national dialogue between political forces, which had been called for by the minister of defence, is postponed for the time being.
The reason behind the postponement of the meeting was the reluctance of many political actors to respond to the invitation, according to the statement published on the official Facebook page of the spokesperson for the armed forces.
The Central Election Commission announced that the vote, initially set only for December 15, will take place both on Saturday and a week later on December 22. Each round will cover a different region, the state media reported.
According to Aljazeera, the two-day voting plan had been adopted because many of the judges needed to oversee the vote were staying away in protest at the decision to hold the referendum, so voting had to be staggered to move the judges around.
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.
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.
Islamist groups were also holding rival counter demonstrations, raising fears of further bloody clashes on the streets of the Egyptian capital.
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.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian journalist who was hit in the head by a rubber bullet during last week's clashes in Cairo, succumbed to his injuries today, state-run MENA news agency reported.
The Syndicate of Journalists mourned El-Husseini Abu-Deif. He was a prominent active member of the syndicate, chairman Mamdouh el-Wali said, extending his heart-felt condolences to his family and colleagues and demanding that his killer be brought to justice.