updated 4:01 AM MDT, May 24, 2017
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Morsi decree triggers mass protests in Egypt

Morsi decree triggers mass protests in Egypt

Clashes erupt while the president justifies granting himself sweeping powers as necessary to defend the revolution.

Supporters and opponents of Egypt's president have clashed in several cities after he assumed sweeping new powers, a clear show of the deepening polarisation plaguing the country.

In the largest rally on Friday, thousands of chanting protesters packed Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution, demanding Mohamed Morsi quit and accusing him of launching a "coup".

Buoyed by accolades from around the world for mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel, Morsi on Thursday issued a declaration giving himself powers that go beyond those held by toppled president Hosni Mubarak, putting himself above the judiciary.

He also ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.

Liberal and secular members earlier walked out of the body, charging it would impose strict Islamic practices.

"I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son of Egypt," Morsi said on a stage outside the presidential palace on Friday, adding that he was working for social and economic stability and the rotation of power.

Tear gas fired

Thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square after  opposition leaders called for a "million-man march" to protest against what they say is a coup by Morsi.

Opponents of President Mohamed Morsi broke into the offices
of the Freedom and Justice Party, setting it on fire  [AFP]

Al Jazeera Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Cairo, said that while the crowds had thinned slightly, there were still many people in Tahrir Square, "calling for the fall of the regime - the are calling for the fall of the [Muslim] Brotherhood".

Protests also turned violent in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez.

Fifteen people were injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of the president.

The headquarters of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party headquarters in Alexandria was set on fire by protesters on Friday afternoon.

The party's offices have been attacked in five cities in total.

'We are all together'

Hundreds of Morsi's supporters rallied outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday to express support for the him.

In his speech, Morsi said: "I will never be against any Egyptians because we are all together and we need to give momentum to freedom and democracy and the transfer.

"I like to support what you want - to have stability and safety, the safety of the individual and safety of the nation."

He said he aimed to bring social and economic stability to Egypt. Doing so, he said requires "getting rid of the obstacles of the past".

"My decision is to keep and to maintain and to preserve the nation and the people," Morsi said.

"I don't want to have all the powers...but if I see my nation in danger, I will do and I will act. I must."

Morsi, an Islamist whose roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood, has also given himself sweeping powers that allowed him to sack the unpopular prosecutor general and opened the door for a retrial for Mubarak and his aides.

The president's decree aimed to end the logjam and push Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, more quickly on its democratic path, the presidential spokesman said.

"President Morsi said we must go out of the bottleneck without breaking the bottle," Yasser Ali told Reuters.

Our corresponded, Hoda Abdel-Hamid, said that many of Morsi's supporters had been "bussed in from different parts of the country," adding that the crowd protesting Morsi's decree were angered by his speech.

"President Morsi appeared today, he said that he was speaking to all Egyptians...but he spoke on a stage to his own constituency in front of the presidential palace," said Abdel-Hamid.

"Many people here will tell you that if he's a president to all Egyptians, he should have spoke to the nation from his own office, but certainly not to his constituency."

'Huge ramifications'

Morsi's decree raises very serious human rights concerns, a spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said on Friday.

"We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt," Rupert Colville said at the UN in Geneva.

"We also fear this could lead to a very volatile situation over the next few days, starting today in fact."

Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al Jazeera that Morsi "is erecting himself as an absolute monarch" because he did not consult the opposition on the decision.

"The problem is not about the content of the decisions itself, but about the way it was taken," he said.

"This is a dangerous situation for the whole country. It is very confusing, because we don't know if we are in the presence of a constitutional declaration, or of a law, or of just administrative degrees," said Nafaa.

"We have all of this together in the same statement."

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Egypt PM decries Gaza 'aggression' by Israel

Attacks reported during Hesham Qandil's solidarity visit, despite short-lived promise of conditional halt to strikes

On a brief visit to the Gaza Strip, Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil has denounced Israel's attacks on the Palestinian territory and said Cairo would try to secure a ceasefire.

"Egypt will spare no effort ... to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce," Qandil said as he visited wounded residents at a Gaza hospital on Friday.

Fighting reportedly continued along the Israel-Gaza border during Qandil's three-hour visit, although Israel had announced it would hold its fire while Qandil was in the enclave on the condition that Hamas fighters did the same.

Hamas said strikes on Friday morning killed three Palestinians, including a child.

Israel's military denied it had carried out attacks during the temporary cessation, but said about 50 rockets were fired from Gaza while Qandil was in the Palestinian territory.

"Hamas does not respect the Egyptian prime minister's visit to Gaza and violates the temporary ceasefire that Israel agreed to during the visit," Ofir Gendelman, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter.

Egypt, now led by an Islamist government seen as ideologically close to Hamas, has arranged previous informal truces between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.

As air raid sirens sounded on Friday, one rocket hit the sea off the coast of Tel Aviv, about 200 metres from the US embassy. On Thursday, two rockets from Gaza crashed near the city in the first such attacks on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years.

The Israeli army said it had carried out 466 air strikes since it launched "Operation Pillar of Defence" on Wednesday afternoon with the targeted killing of Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari.

The army added that 11 rockets had been fired from Gaza at Israel overnight to Friday, increasing the total to 280 rockets since Wednesday afternoon. The Israeli air defence system Iron Dome intercepted 131 of those.

One fell into the Mediterranean Sea and the other in an uninhabited part of a southern Tel Aviv suburb.

Two days of Israeli air strikes have killed almost two dozen Palestinians, including at least 11 civilians, among them six children and a pregnant woman.

A rocket fired from Gaza killed three Israelis in the town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday morning.

Egypt condemnation
The Gaza conflagration has increased tension in the Middle East, with two years of Arab popular revolution and a
civil war in Syria that threatens to spread farther afield.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza City, rattling tall buildings. In a hint of escalation, the spokesman for Israel's military said it had received the approval to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops. About 16,000 have reportedly been activated already.

Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Jerusalem, said, "It doesn't mean that there will be [a ground operation] but it means Israel is taking all the precautions and being prepared for any necessary move it needs to make."

Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, denounced Israel's attacks as "a blatant aggression against humanity" and said Cairo "would not leave Gaza on its own".
 Al Jazeera correspondents report on the latest

Morsi faces domestic pressure to act tough. But Egypt gets $1.3bn a year in US military aid and looks to Washington for help with its ailing economy, constraining Morsi despite his need to show Egyptians that his policies differ from those of his US-backed predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

Speaking from Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh urged Egypt to do more to help the Palestinians.

"We call upon the brothers in Egypt to take the measures that will deter this enemy," the Hamas prime minister said.

The resurgent conflict will be the biggest test yet of Morsi's commitment to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel,
which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.

Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday. Israel's ambassador left Cairo on what was called a routine home visit. Israel said its embassy would remain open.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Morsi to power in an election after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak, has called for a "Day of Rage" in Arab capitals on Friday.

Diplomatic developments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday called on Cairo to use its influence on Hamas to ease tensions in Gaza.

Tunisia's foreign minister will visit Gaza on Saturday as part of a delegation to offer support to Hamas and increase Arab pressure on Israel.

UN diplomats said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would head to Israel and Egypt next week to try to mediate a ceasefire, although they gave no further details.

The United States has asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the movement to stop its recent rocket attacks from Gaza, a White House adviser said.

"We've ... urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas, such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners, to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said in a conference call with reporters.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview with Voice of America: "I understand the reasons Israel is doing what they're doing. They've been the target of missiles coming in from Gaza."

He added, "Our hope is that in striking back that they can minimise the civilian deaths that are likely to occur."

French President Francois Hollande began talks with the Israeli PM and other world leaders in an attempt to avert an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Jean-Francois Ayrault said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Netanyahu too, saying Hamas bore the principal responsibility for the crisis.

Iran, which has backed Hamas against Israel, condemned the military offensive as "organised terrorism".

Palestinians firing long-range rockets represents a "very significant development" in the conflict with Israel, Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, said on Thursday.

"The firing of Fajr 5 rockets on Tel Aviv today shows the maturation, the wisdom and strength, and the courage of the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip," he said.

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Morsi camp claims Egypt presidency win

Brotherhood claims victory based on unofficial tallies, but SCAF decree limiting presidential powers overshadows count.

The count will not be completed until later in the week, but unofficial tallies show Morsi with a million-vote lead [EPA]

The Muslim Brotherhood has declared their candidate, Mohammed Morsi, the winner of Egypt's presidential runoff, and unofficial vote tallies show him leading the race by more than one million votes.

The group held a press conference early on Monday morning to announce Morsi's victory. With 12,793 of the country's roughly 13,000 polling stations reporting, Morsi had 12.7 million votes, while his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, had 11.84 million, the group said.

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Updates:Mursi gets a head start in Shafiq's home town in the Sharqiya governorate's Heya

Mursi or Shafiq? Ahram Online provides live coverage of countrywide vote counts in Egypt's watershed elections for a successor to toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak
10:55 Egyptian television coverage is momentarily shifting from the vote count to discussing the military council's new addendum to the constitutional declaration.

10:44 The counts are in for seven polling stations in Assiut and the Brotherhood's man is pulling further ahead:

Mursi: 4,204

Mursi or Shafiq? Ahram Online provides live coverage of countrywide vote counts in Egypt's watershed elections for a successor to toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak

Shafiq: 837

10:36 Mursi gets a head start in Shafiq's home town in the Sharqiya governorate's Heya district:

Mursi: 1,919

Shafiq: 501

10:24 More wins for Mursi in Upper Egypt, according to the Brotherhood's official website, Ikhwan Online.

The site claims that counts have been completed at 20 polling stations in Minya Governorate, the tally stands at:

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