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Anti-Morsi protesters surround presidential palace

Protesters demonstrating against Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi remained camped outside Cairo's presidential palace on Wednesday morning after Tuesday saw tens of thousands of demonstrators besiege the palace and clash with riot police.


Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi returned to work on Wednesday morning at the presidential palace, an aide said, a day after thousands of protesters thronged the building to demand an end to his regime.

Police fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators who descended on the palace on December 4 in what they called “last warning” protests against Morsi, who angered opponents with a November 22 decree that expanded his powers, placing him beyond the reach of the judiciary, and his support for a controversial draft constitution.

Some protesters broke through the police lines around his palace and took up posts near the perimeter wall.

Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement called for a rally outside of the presidential palace on Wednesday in a show of support for President Mohammed Morsi. Meanwhile, a leftist opposition group appealed to anti-Morsi demonstrators to stage a rival protest the same day.

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” the demonstrators chanted.

Presidential sources said Morsi left the building when the number of protesters gathered outside began to swell. “The president has left the palace,” one source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had departed.

Riot police at the palace faced off against activists chanting “Leave, leave” and holding Egyptian flags with “No to the constitution” written on them. At one point, people clambered onto an armoured police vehicle and waved flags, while riot police huddled nearby.

“Our marches are against tyranny and the void constitutional decree, and we won’t retract our position until our demands are met,” said Hussein Abdel Ghany, a spokesman for an opposition coalition of liberal, leftist and other factions.

Eighteen people were injured in the clashes near the palace, state news agencies reported, citing the Health Ministry.

'Under siege'

The protesters are intent on letting the president feel their presence, said FRANCE 24’s Cairo correspondent, Alex Turnbull. “The demonstrators pulled away the barricades that the security forces had put in place and it looks like the presidential palace is under siege," Turnbull said.

“There are demonstrators all around the building and they are trying all they can to make sure Morsi notices them," he said. "They were banging stones against posts and street lamps, and dozens were aiming laser lights through the palace windows.”

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Earlier, protesters had taken to the streets waving Egyptian flags, denouncing the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party, from which Morsi emerged, for having "sold the revolution" that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak last year.

Morsi has called a December 15 referendum on the draft constitution, which is rejected by liberals, leftists and Christians, and which has sparked strikes and deadly protests since it was unveiled last week.

"I'm not going to vote. Morsi and the committee [drafting the constitution] are void," one protester told AFP.

The draft charter has become the focal point of a political and ideological battle in Egypt between the ruling Islamists and the largely secular-leaning opposition.

"Egypt is a country where all religions should live together. I love God's law and Sharia (Islamic law), but I will vote against the constitution because it has split the people," said Bassam Ali Mohammed, a professor of Islamic law, as he neared the presidential palace.

Morsi has not only placed his decisions beyond judicial oversight but also barred any judicial body from dissolving the Islamist-dominated panel that drafted and approved the new constitution, sparking a high-profile conflict with the country's judges.

Media strike

Security measures were tightened around the capital on Tuesday, with some schools and businesses closed, and independent and opposition newspapers refusing to publish their Tuesday editions to protest against the lack of press freedoms in the draft constitution.

The strike was designed to "stand up to tyranny", independent daily Al-Tahrir said on its website.

"The Egyptian Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom," read a message on the newspaper's website, its only viewable content on Tuesday.

As he faces his worst crisis since taking office in June, Morsi insists the measures are aimed at ending a tumultuous transition following the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in early 2011.

But his opponents have accused him of choosing the same path of autocracy that finally cost Mubarak his presidency.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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