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Egypt’s Mursi calls for dialogue, makes concession to opponents

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Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi invited political groups and other figures to meet on Saturday for a national dialogue on a political roadmap after a referendum on a new constitution.

"I call for a full, productive dialogue with all figures and heads of parties, revolutionary youth and senior legal figures to meet this Saturday," Mursi said in a televised address on Thursday, saying the meeting would be at his official palace.

As well as drawing up a roadmap, he said they would discuss the fate of the upper house of parliament after the lower house was dissolved in June, the election law and other issues. He said plans for the referendum on Dec. 15 were on track.

Mursi said that a political crisis sparked by his move to expand his powers should not be resolved by violence.

"Such painful events happened because of political differences that should be resolved through dialogue," the Islamist president said in a televised address to the nation after two days of violence during protests.

"We respect peaceful freedom of speech but will never allow anyone to take part in killings and sabotage," he said in the speech which came amid the worst political crisis since his election in June.

“I feel a responsibility for every Egyptian, whether they oppose or support me. The nation is united. All citizens enjoy the right to security.

“There is no difference between citizens in terms of their right to safety.

“These painful events happened due to political differences. The only solution is dialogue.

“The ex-regime used thugs and rigged elections … such methods will never be used in Egypt ever again,” Mursi said.

Mursi said the referendum on a controversial new constitution will go ahead, defying protesters who have clashed with his supporters over the charter and sweeping new powers he has given himself.

The anti-Morsi camp is furious with the president for assuming sweeping powers two weeks ago and by what it feels was the railroading through by an Islamist-dominated panel of the draft constitution.

But after the referendum, scheduled for Dec. 15, the people "must follow its will," whether they vote "yes" or "no."

Reactions

But opposition members have already spoken out against Mursi's address. Abu Ezz al-Hariri, a member of dissolved parliament, said whoever accepts dialogue with the Mursi will "betray the revolution."

Also, Egypt's opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, is assessing Mursi's offer to hold a national dialogue after the Islamist leader sparked a crisis by expanding his powers, a spokesman for the group said on Thursday.

"We are still assessing the president's speech and call for talks. We are discussing it with our members and youths," the alliance spokesman, Hussein Abdel-Ghani, told Reuters.

A leading Egyptian pro-democracy movement rejected Mursi's call for dialogue on Thursday and said it would take part in a protest against the head of state.

The "April 6" movement, which played a prominent role in igniting the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, made the announcement on its Facebook page. It said Friday's protest would be called the "red card" for Mursi.

Mounting unrest

The address came as opposition protesters marched towards the presidential palace calling for his ouster.

Hundreds of Mursi supporters who had camped out near the palace overnight withdrew before a mid-afternoon deadline set by the Republican Guard, an elite unit whose duties include protecting the palace. Scores of opposition protesters remained, but were kept away by a barbed wire barricade guarded by tanks.

The military played a big role in removing President Hosni Mubarak during last year’s popular revolt, taking over to manage a transitional period, but had stayed out of the latest crisis.

Mursi’s Islamist partisans fought opposition protesters well into the early hours during dueling demonstrations over the president’s Nov. 22 decree to expand his powers to help him push through a mostly Islamist-drafted constitution.

Troops set up a perimeter around the presidential palace on Thursday to keep protesters away after a night of deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi, an AFP correspondent said.

Soldiers set up barbed wire barricades some 150 meters (yards) from the palace compound, after first ordering rival protesters to leave the area.

Mursi supporters left the area but several hundred opposition activists gathered in a square around 300 meters away.

Officials said five people were killed and 762 wounded in the violence, the al-Ahram newspaper reported, for which each side blamed the other. Six of the dead were Mursi supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood said.

Prosecutors investigating the unrest said Brotherhood members had detained 49 wounded protesters and were refusing to release them to the authorities, the state news agency said.

The Brotherhood’s spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan denied this, saying all “thugs” detained by members of the Islamist group had been handed over to the police or the Republican Guard.

The street clashes reflected a deep political divide in the most populous Arab nation, where contrasting visions of Islamists and their liberal rivals have complicated a struggle to embed democracy after Mubarak’s 30 years of one-man rule.