CAIRO - In televised address, Egyptian president calls for dialogue, but refuses to delay December 15 constitutional referendum.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed the nation on Thursday night amidst ongoing unrest, and while he called for dialogue and offered sympathy for the deaths of protesters, he offered few concessions and dismissed his political opposition.
The unrest began after Morsi issued a decree on November 22 granting him wide-ranging powers which are not subject to judicial review.
Protests reached a peak on Wednesday, when seven died and more than 770 injured during hours of clashes outside the presidential palace. Supporters of the president attacked a group of opposition protesters staging a peaceful sit-in, using firebombs, clubs and guns.
In his speech, Morsi called the violence "regrettable," and blamed it on "infiltrators" funded by unnamed third parties.
|Anti-Mursi protesters point to a banner reading "Down Pharoah President Mursi" during a protest in front of the presidential palace in Cairo December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh|
'People can have their say'
But the president offered only a few half-measures and no meaningful concessions to an increasingly angry opposition. Opposition leaders have called on Morsi to delay a constitutional referendum planned for December 15, and to revoke his decree, which includes the controversial article 6 shielding his decisions from review. Morsi said he would “not insist” on keeping it and also invited the opposition to what he called a "comprehensive and productive dialogue" on Saturday. But he said the referendum would proceed as planned, so that "people can have their say…Let them vote yes or no," said Morsi.
The president said he will supervise the formation of a new constituent assembly if the draft is rejected. Critics say the 100-member panel that drafted the document was dominated by Islamists and unrepresentative of Egyptian society; nearly two-dozen members, including liberals and Coptic Church, reps have recently resigned.
'They took advantage'
Leading opposition figures, including Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, blamed Morsi for the deaths, which many witnesses said began after protesters loyal to him charged the opposition.
Morsi insisted that the violence was caused by a minority of protesters who received "black money" and weapons from unnamed parties.
Senior Brotherhood officials have spent the last two weeks insisting that members of former president Hosni Mubarak's regime are trying to overthrow Morsi – though not getting into specific plots. Protesters have camped out for days outside his palace, and in Cairo's Tahrir Square; activists are planning a major protest on Friday. Seven of Morsi's senior advisers have resigned in the past two weeks, including four since Wednesday's violence.
Protesters also set fire to the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, though the damage was limited, according to security sources.