Mursi’s opponents, supporters clash on eve of divisive referendum

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About 13 people were injured after clashes between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Reuters reported on Friday.

To disperse stone-throwing clashes between Islamists and opposition protesters in Alexandria Friday on the eve of a highly charged referendum on a new constitution, Egyptian police fired tear gas.

There was no immediate word on any casualties but witnesses told AFP street violence was continuing in Egypt’s second-biggest city despite police efforts to restore order.

Al Arabiya correspondent also reported late Friday that protesters against President Mursi were attacked in the eastern province of Bour Saeed.

Tensions have been running high over the referendum, which is being held over two successive Saturdays, after weeks of protests and violence between the rival camps in Cairo that killed eight people and injured hundreds last week.

Both sides were holding further rallies in Cairo on Friday.

A pro-constitution demonstration organized by the Muslim Brotherhood backing Mursi gathered more than 2,000 people.

Egypt’s mainly secular opposition has slammed the draft charter as divisive and a possible attempt by Islamists to introduce Islamic law.

“Insistence on referendum in an explosive, polarized, chaotic & lawless environment is leading country to the brink,” opposition National Salvation Front leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on his Twitter feed.

The Front has said it could yet call a boycott if its “deep concern” over the referendum's fairness turns out to be founded.

Decisive referendum

Egyptians are to start deciding Saturday whether to adopt a new constitution backed by Islamists including Mursi, or reject it as urged by the opposition, which claims the new charter does not represent all Egyptians.

The United States Thursday urged Mursi to lead efforts to forge a consensus before, during and after the referendum.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was urging “Egypt’s political leaders of all stripes to make clear to their supporters that violence of any kind during this polling is unacceptable.”

“At the same time, we call on President Mursi, as the first democratically elected leader of Egypt, to lead the effort before, during and after the voting to continue to try to build a national consensus.”

Since the announcement of the referendum date, supporters and opponents of the draft constitution campaigned to influence people’s decisions ahead of the vote scheduled on Dec. 15.

Leaders exchange accusations

On the eve of the referendum, figures from the two divided camps exchanged accusations.

Samih Ashour, head of Egypt’s lawyer syndicate, and member of the umbrella opposition group, the National Salvation Front, warned that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will rig the referendum vote.

Meanwhile, general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badee, described opponents of the draft constitution as “followers” of the toppled regime of Hosni Mubarak.

But founder of the Constitution Party and member of the National Salvation Front, Mohammed al-Baradei, called on Salafists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood to have dialogue over the controversial constitution and advised that different opinions must be respected.

Split vote

Voters in the biggest cities of Cairo and Alexandria and eight other governorates will cast their ballots on Saturday. A week later, on Dec. 22, the other half of the country will go to the polls.

Mursi ordered the split vote because many judges are refusing to oversee the plebiscite in protest.

“It’s you who will pay the price if you vote yes. No to the constitution,” said an online campaign advertisement by an opposition group called April 6.

The pro-referendum camp released videos with a song whose lyrics say: “This constitution is not too bad, it was written by a committee of heroes.”

It also has supporters holding “Yes to the constitution” placards along main roads.

Analysts said the proven ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to promote its views at the ballot box could well see the draft constitution adopted, though that was not certain.