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Protesters in Cairo converged in their thousands on Tahrir Square where a sit-in began last week after the president signed a decree making his decisions immune from legal challenge.
Protesters in Cairo converged in their thousands on Tahrir Square where a sit-in began last week after the president signed a decree making his decisions immune from legal challenge.

Morsi protesters clash with police in 100,000-strong show of outrage

Opposition groups rally with renewed vigour in Tahrir Square and other cities to protest against the president Mohammed Morsi, who has granted himself near absolute powers.

CAIRO // Protesters clashed with police across Egypt yesterday, as opposition groups rallied with renewed vigour in Tahrir Square and other cities to protest against the president Mohammed Morsi, who has granted himself near absolute powers.

The protesters are angry at a decreethat effectively places Mr Morsi beyond judicial oversight.

In a massive show of outrage, 100,000 people rallied in Cairo yesterday and state media reported that one protester died of tear-gas inhalation when police fired on demonstrators throwing stones in the streets around Tahrir Square.

Demonstrations continued across the country and also turned violent in Damanhoor where a 15-year-old protester was killed after clashes, according to officials.

Lawyers, journalists and actors were among those who joined marches across Cairo in the afternoon, meeting in the symbolic heart of last year's uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak and ushered in an era of bitter and chaotic contests for the identity of Egypt.

As crowds chanted and waved banners yesterday, Iman Abelhadi, a lawyer, said: "Morsi - he laughed at us."

She said she came to the square because the president's ruling was illegal and would erode freedoms.

"We came to get the next revolution," she said, adding that she staunchly opposed the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood from which the president draws his strongest support.

The Brotherhood cancelled demonstrations for the same time, which officials hoped would reduce the likelihood of violence. But a Brotherhood spokesman said demonstrations supporting the president could go ahead outside the capital and that supporters would form human chains in some provinces to protect Brotherhood offices.

Mr Morsi's supporters said that more than a dozen of their offices had been ransacked or set ablaze since Friday. About 5,000 demonstrated in the southern city of Assiut in support of Mr Morsi's decrees.

The rallies against Mr Morsi were an opportunity to show the strength of the opposition to Mr Morsi, which has so far been too divided and disorganised to have a significant effect on policy.

"The only thing that Morsi has achieved is to unify the civilian, non-Islamist power," said Ali Mohammed Farag, a retired brigadier, joining the protesters in Tahrir while wearing an immaculate grey suit. "We were divided and Morsi helped us to unify."

Despite a meeting on Monday with senior members of the judiciary, who have complained that the new powers are illegal, the president has yet to back down on any of the provisions of the ruling.

Yesterday, the Judges Club of Egypt denounced his "recalcitrance". In a statement the group said it was struggling to preserve judicial independence and called for a three-day strike to continue. A spokesman for Mr Morsi said on Monday night that the new powers were temporary and applied only to sovereign decrees.

Rights groups have also condemned the ruling.

"Egypt is in serious need of judicial reform but decreeing that the president rule by fiat is no way to achieve it," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. She pointed in a statement that the declaration allowed prosecution of officials linked to the Mubarak regime under vague rules.

The continuing public outrage has allowed prominent opposition figures who had been sidelined to move into the spotlight once more.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who supported Egyptian opposition for decades but is seen as too elite and too pro-western by many Egyptians, led a march to Tahrir from the Shubra neighbourhood.

Hamdeen Sabahi, also a long-term opponent of Mubarak and who stood for president last year, led thousands of people from the Mohandiseen area to Tahrir, some of whom tweeted pictures of his arrival into the square at around 7pm.

But many people on the streets in Cairo were disdainful of the demonstrations.

"I'm against these demonstrations," said Issam Hanafi, a parking attendant balefully eyeing the square full of chanting people in Mohandiseen. He was not so much in favour of Morsi, he said, but he felt that the demonstrators were holding up progress in the country.

"This is not building," he said, "this is destroying ... We have people who are addicted to revolution. They are ready to shout 'down with' anything. They love revolution."


* With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press

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