Five demonstrators died overnight Thursday in the worst violence since Mohammed Mursi became Egypt’s first Islamist president in June.
The five were killed by gunfire or buckshot as nearly 350 others were wounded when allies and foes of Mursi clashed around the presidential palace in Cairo, state news agency MENA said.
Stones and Molotov cocktail bombs flew around, and gunshots were heard as supporters of Mursi fought protesters outside the palace in Cairo, according to Al Arabiya’s correspondent.
The clashes started escalating even after Egypt’s vice president, speaking at a news conference from inside the palace, proposed a way to end a crisis over a draft constitution that has split the most populous Arab nation.
Three members of Mursi’s presidential advisory council announced the resignation over crisis, reported Al Arabiya. The members are Seif Abdel Fattah, Ayman al-Sayyad and Amr al-Leithy.
In the same vain, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s powerful al-Azhar Mosque Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb urged Egyptians for dialogue after Wednesday’s clashes.
Conditions flared up on Wednesday after Mursi’s supporters, who had flocked to the palace in response to a call from the Muslim Brotherhood, scuffled with the president’s opponents, hurling stones and other objects at each other.
Two Islamists were hit in the legs by what their friends said were bullets fired during the clashes in streets around the compound in northern Cairo, according to Reuters. One of them was bleeding heavily.
Riot police began to deploy between the two sides to try to end the violence which flared after dark despite an attempt by Vice President Mahmoud Mekky to calm the political crisis.
He said amendments to disputed articles in the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then be submitted to the next parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on Dec. 15.
“There must be consensus,” he told a news conference, saying opposition demands must be respected to overcome the crisis.
Opposition leader Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and secretary-general of the Arab League, said Mursi should make a formal offer for dialogue if his opponents were to consider seriously Mekky’s ideas for a way out of the political impasse.
“We are ready when there is something formal, something expressed in definite terms, we will not ignore it,” Moussa told Reuters during talks with other opposition figures.
Opposition leaders have previously urged Mursi to retract a decree widening his powers, defer the plebiscite and agree to revise the constitution, but have not echoed calls from street protesters for his overthrow and the “downfall of the regime."
Mursi had returned to work at his compound a day after it came under siege from protesters furious at his assumption of extraordinary powers via an edict on Nov. 22.
The president, narrowly elected by popular vote in June, said he acted to stop courts still full of judges appointed by ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution meant to complete a political transition in Egypt, long an ally of Washington and signatory to a 1979 peace deal with Israel.
Rival groups skirmished earlier outside the presidential palace on Wednesday. Islamist supporters of Mursi tore down tents erected by leftist foes, who had begun a sit-in there.
“They hit us and destroyed our tents. Are you happy, Mursi? Aren’t we Egyptians too?” asked protester Haitham Ahmed.
Mohamed Mohy, a pro-Mursi demonstrator who was filming the scene, said: “We are here to support our president and his decisions and save our country from traitors and agents.”
Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, Mursi has shown no sign of buckling, confident that Islamists can win the referendum and a parliamentary election to follow.
Many Egyptians yearn for an end to political upheaval that has scared off investors and tourists, damaging the economy.
Mekky said street mobilization by both sides posed a “real danger” to Egypt. “If we do not put a stop to this phenomenon right away ... where are we headed? We must calm down.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed into Egypt’s political debate, saying dialogue was urgently needed on the new constitution, which should “respect the rights of all citizens”.
Clinton and Mursi worked together last month to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
“It needs to be a two-way dialogue ... among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution,” Clinton told a news conference in Brussels.
Washington is worried about rising Islamist power in Egypt, a staunch U.S. security partner under Mubarak.