Nation & World

Egypt protesters march toward president's palace

CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptians marched toward the president's palace early Friday afternoon for another day of demonstrations against the president while thousands of his Islamist backers gathered outside the country's most respected Islamic institution for a funeral for two men killed in Wednesday's bloody clashes.

Egypt's simmering political crisis showed no signs of letting up the day after President Mohammed Morsi responded to the violence outside his palace with a fiery speech denouncing his opponents, deepening the crisis. The opposition turned down his appeal for talks, saying the president had not fulfilled their conditions for beginning negotiations.

At the funeral held by Morsi's Islamist backers after midday prayers at Al-Azhar mosque, Egypt's premier Islamic institution, a hardline Muslim cleric denounced anti-Morsi protesters as "traitors." Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were "murderers." In a twist on a revolutionary chant from the 2011 uprising, they also yelled for "bread, freedom, and Islamic law."

Amid the rival rallies and marches in Cairo and in the cities of Alexandria and Luxor, the public standoff continued over what opponents call the Islamist president's power grab.

In a televised address late Thursday, an angry Morsi refused to call off the vote on the disputed constitution. He accused some in the opposition of serving remnants of Mubarak's regime and vowed he would never tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his government.

He also invited the opposition to a dialogue starting Saturday at his palace, but he gave no sign that he might offer any meaningful concessions. Morsi's opponents replied they would not talk until Morsi cancels his decrees.

The president's remarks were his first comments to the public after bloody clashes outside his palace on Wednesday, when thousands of his backers from the Muslim Brotherhood fought with the president's opponents. Six people were killed and at least 700 injured.

The speech brought shouts of "the people want to topple the regime!" from the crowd of 30,000 Morsi opponents gathered outside his palace — the same chant heard in the protests that brought down Mubarak.

Since the crisis erupted, the opposition has tried to forge a united front. The squabbling groups created a National Salvation Front to bring them together, naming Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the country's top reform campaigner, as its leader.

Speaking on the new umbrella group's behalf, ElBaradei responded to Morsi's speech in his own televised remarks, saying that Morsi's government showed reluctance in acting to stop Wednesday night's bloodshed outside the palace. He said this failure has eroded the government's legitimacy and made it difficult for his opposition front to negotiate with the president.

ElBaradei said Morsi has not responded to the opposition group's attempts to "rescue the country" and that the president had "closed the door for dialogue" by "ignoring the demands of the people."

After Friday prayers, protesters began marching to the palace from several different directions.

Protesters are demanding that Morsi rescind decrees that give him almost absolute power and push an Islamist-friendly constitution to a referendum on Dec. 15. The decrees sparked a crisis that has boiled for more than two weeks. Demonstrations have reached the size and intensity of those that brought down President Hosni Mubarak early last year.

The April 6 movement, which played a key role in sparking the uprising against Mubarak, called its supporters to gather at mosques in Cairo and the neighboring city of Giza to march to the palace. They termed Friday's march a "red card" for Morsi, a reference to a football referee sending a player off the field for a serious violation.

Egypt's military intervened on Thursday for the first time, posting tanks around the palace and stringing barbed wire.

Also on Friday morning, thousands of Brotherhood members gathered in Cairo outside the mosque of Al-Azhar, Egypt's most respected Islamic institution, for the funeral of two members of the fundamentalist group who were killed during Wednesday's clashes.

During the funeral, thousands Islamist mourners chanted, "with blood and soul, we redeem Islam," pumping their fists in the air. "Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal," they chanted as they walked in a funeral procession that filled streets around Al-Azhar mosque.

Ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis are organizing their own rally Friday against what they say is biased coverage of the crisis by private Egyptian satellite TV channels.

Criticism is growing from Egyptian journalists, including those working for state-run news organizations, over what they say are attempts by Islamists to control themedia.

On Thursday, dozens of Egyptian journalists from the state-run Al-Ahram daily held protests in front of the paper building denouncing the editorial policy of the paper. The paper had been seen as the mouthpiece under Mubarak's rule.

Also on Thursday, prominent television presenter Khairy Ramadan resigned on air after the private network he works for banned prominent opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi from appearing on air for an interview.

The TV network is owned by a businessman who was believed to be linked to old regime.

This resignation came hours after the head of state television resigned in objection to official coverage of the crisis.

Egypt's Ministry of Information is led by a Muslim Brotherhood member who recently permitted female presenters to wear veils on air.

Egyptian activists circulated footage on Facebook and Twitter that they said showed that state TV was turning a blind eye to Wednesday's clashes outside the president's palace.

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