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Africa

Morsi approves army's unity talks as rival protests grow

© AFP

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-12

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will attend Wednesday’s national unity talks proposed by the military, officials confirmed on Tuesday, as rival protests for and against the government’s new constitution continued to grow.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi approved an army call for holding national unity talks on Wednesday in a bid to end a political crisis, officials confirmed on Tuesday.

Refa’a Al-Tahtawy, Morsi’s presidential chief of staff, confirmed the decision in an interview with Al Jazeera television after it was announced by an army spokesperson on Morsi’s official Facebook page. The talks are due to take place on Wednesday.

The talks were put forward by Defence Minister and Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi on Tuesday as rival groups of protesters supporting and denouncing Morsi continued to grow in the streets of Cairo. The minister called for “a meeting of national unity for the love of Egypt to bring together partners of the country in the presence of the president of the republic.”

The move came hours after Egypt’s finance minister announced a one-month delay to a vital $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan to the country.

Egyptians from all fields, including politicians, artists and athletes were invited to take part in the talks, three days ahead of a referendum on the government’s disputed draft constitution.

Egypt’s main opposition coalition said it would meet on Wednesday morning to decide whether to attend the talks, a leading politician in the National Salvation Front, Hamdeen Sabahy, told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

'ATMOSPHERE MORE FESTIVE THAN TENSE'

“The Egyptian army is a great army and highly valued among all Egyptians. We respect it and its efforts but if this invitation does not have a clear agenda then we are afraid it will be a public relations exercise and we don’t see any value in attending,” he said.

Bitter divide

The invitation is the second instance this week to signal the military’s return to the political fray after handing over power in June to Islamist Morsi, Egypt’s first civilian president. Earlier this week, the military, which sees itself as the guarantor of Egypt’s interests and secular traditions, warned of disastrous consequences if the crisis over the country’s draft constitution is not resolved.

On one side of the divide, there is President Mohammed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraorthodox Salafis, while on the other there is a collection of liberals, leftists and Christians who claim the draft charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country. As night fell in Cairo on Tuesday, rival protests swelled as thousands of people from both camps gathered in the capital, many of them arriving by bus from other regions.

In the Nasr City district, a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, tens of thousands of the president’s backers rallied in front of a neighborhood mosque. “You can expect a lively scene here tonight,” FRANCE 24’s Chris Moore reported from the scene. “But supporters here have told us that they have no intention of going to the presidential palace, avoiding a repeat of those violent scenes that we saw last week”.

Just a few kilometers away, tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied outside the palace, pushing their demands that Morsi scrap the referendum on the charter. A metal and concrete barricade that had been set up to protect the presidential palace was breached by hundreds of surging anti-Morsi protesters earlier in the day, forcing soldiers to retreat from the building.

The army has orders from Morsi to use temporary police powers to protect state institutions, following clashes in the capital last week that left seven people dead and hundreds hurt.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-11

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