Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside President Mohamed Mursi's palace in Cairo on Tuesday, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, presidency sources said.
Officers fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators angered by Mursi's drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on Dec. 15. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.
The crowds had gathered nearby in what organisers had dubbed "last warning" protests against Mursi, who infuriated opponents with a Nov. 22 decree that expanded his powers. "The people want the downfall of the regime," the demonstrators chanted.
"The president left the palace," a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had departed.
The United States on Tuesday appealed for restraint on both sides in Egypt as supporters and opponents of Mursi clashed during nationwide protests.
“We would simply urge that protesters express their views peacefully and that they be given the environment, if you will, to protest peacefully,” AFP reported State Department spokesman Mark Toner as saying.
Toner acknowledged that tensions were high Cairo, where thousands of people surrounded the presidential palace to denounce a decree expanding Mursi’s powers and placing him beyond judicial oversight.
Toner stressed that the Egyptian people should have the opportunity to express themselves on a new constitution that is moving toward a referendum on Dec. 15.
“In the coming days, it’s going to be important that they have an opportunity to express their views, as I said, peacefully, and ultimately that they are able to express their views in a vote, in a peaceful and secure environment,” Toner said.
Opponents of Islamist President Mursi marched on the presidential palace on Tuesday to protest his power grab and a controversial draft charter, as the country plunged deeper into crisis.
Anti-Mursi protesters, who clashed with Egypt's riot police, removed barricades from in front the presidential palace, Al Arabiya correspondent reported. Around 10 protesters were injured after the clashes, the correspondent added.
Thousands took to the streets waving Egyptian flags, chanting for the downfall of the regime and denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Mursi emerged, for having “sold the revolution” that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
A November 22 decree issued by Mursi expanding his powers and enabling him to put to a December 15 referendum a draft constitution -- rejected by liberals, leftists and Christians -- has sparked strikes and deadly protests.
Egypt Judges Club Chairman Counselor Ahmad al-Zind told reporters in a press conference held on Tuesday that judges in the country will boycott the referendum if Mursi’s expected constitutional declaration was not canceled.
Zind defended Egypt’s judges by describing them as “transparent” and having no “personal interests” in the current crisis, which he dubbed as “imposing.”
Islamists have long suspected Egypt’s judges as not “independent” and collaborators with the former regime.
Worst political crisis
It is Egypt’s worst political crisis since the ouster nearly two years ago of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. The country has been divided into two camps: Mursi and his fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, as well as ultraconservative Salafi Islamists versus youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public.
A large turnout would signal sustained momentum for the opposition, which brought out at least 200,000 protesters to Cairo’s Tahrir Square a week ago and a comparable number on Friday, demanding that Mursi’s decrees be rescinded. Hundreds of protesters also have camped out in Tahrir for close to two weeks.
The Islamists responded by sending hundreds of thousands of supporters into Cairo’s twin city of Giza on Saturday and across much of the country. Thousands also imposed a siege on Egypt’s highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court had been widely expected Sunday to declare the constitutional assembly that passed the draft charter on Friday to be illegitimate and to disband parliament’s upper house, the Shura Council. Instead, the judges went on strike after they found their building under siege by protesters.
The strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries.
Already Tuesday, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of expression in the draft constitution.