News - World
Tens of thousands packed Tahrir Square on Tuesday to protest a power grab by Mohamed Mursi, piling pressure on Egypt's Islamist president as he faces his most divisive crisis since taking power in June.
The huge turnout in the iconic square in the heart of Cairo, as well as in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and most of Egypt's 27 provinces, marked the largest mobilisation yet against the president.
"I'm here to protest Mursi's autocratic decisions," said Mohammed Rashwan, an engineering graduate who voted for Mursi in the country's first presidential election since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
"I have discovered that he is pro-Muslim Brotherhood and not the revolution," Rashwan told AFP from the packed square.
A protester also died of asphyxiation after inhaling tear gas during clashes near Cairo's Tahrir Square, medics and his political party said.
Fathy Gharib, 56, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance, died in Cairo's Al-Helal hospital, bringing to three the death toll from a week of clashes.He had inhaled the tear gas when anti-riot police attempted to break up a protest camp he and others had set up against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself sweeping powers.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, marches poured into Tahrir Square, swelling the numbers, amid an electrifying atmosphere many said reminded them of the 2011 uprising.
The protesters are angry at the decree that Mursi announced last Thursday allowing him to "issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal", which effectively placed him beyond judicial oversight.
The decree put him on a collision course with the judiciary and consolidated the long-divided opposition which accuses him of taking on dictatorial powers and raises concerns that the Islamists will be further ensconced in power.
The demonstrations come a day after Mursi stuck by his decree after a meeting with the country's top judges aimed at defusing the crisis that has sparked deadly clashes and prompted judges and journalists to call for strike.
"The solution is to cancel the constitutional declaration... We won't replace a dictator with another," said Asser Ayub, 23, waving an Egyptian flag.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, thousands gathered in Qait Ibrahim square.Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket Mursi ran for office, staged their own rival rally, but marched away after a few hours without any confrontations.
"Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide," the protesters chanted, in reference to the head of the powerful Islamist group, a chant echoed in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where hundreds took to the streets.
Demonstrations were also staged in the Nile Delta cities of Mansura, Tanta and Mahalla and in the central provinces of Assiut, Sohag and Minya.A rival rally in Cairo by the Muslim Brotherhood in support of the president was called off to "avoid potential unrest" but that has done little to abate the division among supporters and foes of Mursi.
"The Muslim Brotherhood stole the revolution" read one banner in Tahrir.
After the meeting on Monday with top judges, Mursi stuck by his controversial decree.
There was "no change to the constitutional declaration," presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters at the end of the meeting. But he added Mursi sought to clarify that any irrevocable decisions apply only to issues related "to his sovereign powers" and stressed the temporary nature of the decree.
In a statement, the head of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) - the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood - said the meeting between Mursi and the judges had been "fruitful".
But judges at the meeting said the crisis was not over.
"The meeting failed," Judge Abdel Rahman Bahlul, who attended the talks, told the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
"We cannot say this is the end of the crisis between the judiciary and the presidency," another judge who attended the talks, Judge Ahmed Abdel Rahman, told the paper.
A judicial source told AFP that even if immunity were limited to sovereign powers, "which appears to be a compromise, there are still concerns that the text itself remains unchanged".
Mursi's decree has led to charges that he is taking on dictatorial powers. The decree also bans any judicial body from dissolving a controversial panel that is drafting the country's new constitution. Liberals, leftists and the country's three churches have already walked out of the Islamist-dominated panel because they say it fails to represent all Egyptians.