About 68 people were injured after clashes between rival demonstrators in Egypt’s second city Alexandria, Al Arabiya TV reported Friday.
Clashes between rival demonstrators erupted on Friday in Alexandria, the eve of the final round of a referendum on a divisive new constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel.
Riot police, with orders to act “decisively,” formed a barrier between several thousand Islamists and hundreds more opposition protesters and used tear gas to put down the street battles.
According to Reuters, police fired tear gas to separate scores of opponents of the constitution and thousands of Islamists who clashed in the rain near a mosque in Alexandria.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Islamists were planning a mass protest on Friday “to defend scholars and mosques” in front of the Qaed Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria.
“God is great,” Islamists chanted as the clashes began.
Calls for rallies came after a violent confrontation between Islamists and the liberal, secular opposition in Alexandria last Friday ended with Muslim preacher Sheikh Ahmed El-Mahalawy besieged inside his mosque for 14 hours, after he had urged worshipers to vote for the constitution.
A number of Islamist forces are expected to participate in Friday’s rally, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafist Calling and its political arm Nour Party, Asala Party, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, and Building and Development Party.
The run-up to the referendum on a new draft constitution has been marked by often violent protests in which at least eight people have died.
The constitution is backed by President Mohamed Mursi and his Islamist allies as a vital step in Egypt’s transition to democracy almost two years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
The opposition, facing defeat in the referendum, has called for a “no” vote against a document it views as leaning too far towards Islamism.
The first day of voting on Dec. 15 resulted in a 57 percent majority in favor of the constitution. The second stage on Saturday is expected to produce another “yes” vote as it covers regions seen as more conservative and likely to back Mursi.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition, said a “no” vote meant taking a stand against attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood, Mursi’s political base, to dominate Egypt.
“For the sake of the future, the masses of our people should strongly and firmly say ‘no’ to injustice and ‘no’ to the Brotherhood’s dominance,” the Front said in a statement.
The National Salvation Front rejected an invitation from Constituent Assembly spokesperson and secretary of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed al-Beltagy, to participate in a debate on Friday over the constitution.
Amr Moussa, a member of the front, said in a televised message that stability will not be achieved with a disputed constitution draft, criticized by many.
Demonstrations erupted when Mursi awarded himself sweeping powers on Nov. 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through a drafting assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.
The referendum is being held over two days because many of the judges needed to oversee polling stayed away in protest. In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of those voting.
Adding to the uncertainty as the final round of the referendum approaches, Egypt’s chief prosecutor suddenly announced that he was retracting his decision to quit.
Prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim, appointed by Mursi when he assumed his new powers, said he had changed his mind because his resignation on Monday was under duress.
Ibrahim had quit after more than 1,000 members of his staff gathered at his office to demand he step down because his appointment by the president, rather than by judicial authorities, threatened the independence of the judiciary.
After he announced he was staying, several prosecutors announced they were suspending work and would stage an open-ended protest outside Ibrahim's office.