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Downfall of Morsy demanded by Egyptian protesters

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 8:09 p.m.
REUTERS
Egyptian protesters demonstrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. They are protesting against President Mohamed Morsi's decree widening his powers and they encircled the presidential palace after riot police failed to keep them away with tear gas. Mohamed Abd El Ghany | Reuters

CAIRO — Protesters surrounded Egypt's presidential palace on Tuesday, shouting for the downfall of Mohamed Morsy in a scene unthinkable under ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Reports said Morsy left the palace, but it was unclear for how long or where he went.

Video posted on Internet sites showed black SUVs racing away as protesters shouted, “Leave! Leave!”

Estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands, the crowds massed here, in Alexandria and other cities were the largest turnout yet in nearly two weeks of unrest.

Their numbers and the depth of their anger suggested the country's bitter division is not about to end and may be growing.

That anger is directed at Morsy, who seized nearly unlimited power on Nov. 22, and a proposed constitution set for a Dec. 15 referendum.

Critics say the constitution — drafted by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, the ultra-Islamist Salafis — restricts individual freedom and moves the country closer to Islamic rule.

Riot police waited behind concertina as marchers from around the capital converged on the palace to thunderous chants of “The people want the downfall of the regime!”

When marchers struggled to break through the razor-sharp wire, police threw noise grenades and fired tear gas, then retreated. The crowd surged onto streets around the palace grounds, and many vowed to remain encamped there.

They chanted against Morsy, the Brotherhood and its leader, Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie.

“Morsy wants Egypt to be like Iran,” said Mohammed Sayed, 33, a government worker. “He will kill everyone who opposes him, and he is funded by Qatar,” he said, sliding fingers across his throat in a cutting motion.

Veronika Benyamin, 19, a student, said “so many things (are) wrong” with the constitution.

“It is against women, there is no social justice, and it is against the media,” added her mother, political activist Hala El Masri.

Both said Morsy wants to turn Egypt into an Islamic state, “like Saudi Arabia or Iran.”

Other demonstrators filled Tahrir Square or marched on the state-run television building. They reflected a broad mix of Egyptians: young and old, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, men and women, veiled and unveiled.

“Morsy's rule, illegitimate!” they chanted. “The constitution, illegitimate!”

Some spray-painted slogans — “No to the constitution of the Brotherhood” — on walls.

As military police watched outside the defense ministry, marchers shouted: “Shave your beard, show your face, we will find Mubarak! Down, down, with Morsy's rule!”

“I'm happy to see so many people here,” said Heba Wanis, a public health worker standing in front of the presidential palace. “This is a real representation of Egypt.”

She vowed to vote against the constitution.

A man passing nearby had taped a sign to his back denouncing “dictatorship in the name of religion.”

“We are here to show the world that some or half or a majority of Egyptians are not supporting Morsy and his policies,” said Randa El Nomeir, 38, a human resources manager. She held a sign reading, “No to the constitution of darkness.”

“This is not what we went to Tahrir for last year,” she said, referring to the 2011 revolution that ousted the Mubarak regime. “But I now know I can make a change.”

Eleven independent or opposition newspapers went on strike Tuesday to protest Morsy's power-grabbing decree and the draft constitution. A day earlier, many newspapers printed front pages declaring “No to dictatorship” with an illustration of a figure wrapped in newspapers and chained to the ground.

Five independent TV stations said they will not broadcast in protest as well.

Some critics of the proposed constitution say it would severely limit press freedom.

At a Saturday rally supporting Morsy, Brotherhood followers carried signs calling for a “cleansing of the media.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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