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Egyptians rally, make demands of Morsy

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 6:51 p.m.
An Egyptian protester chants anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans during a demonstration in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Egypt's political crisis spiraled deeper into bitterness and recrimination on Friday as large crowds of the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's opponents marched to his palace to increase pressure after he rejected their demands. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian President Morsi supporters carry a body of one of six victims who were killed during Wednesday's clashes during their funeral outside Al Azhar mosque, the highest Islamic Sunni institution, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. During the funeral, thousands Islamist mourners chanted, 'with blood and soul, we redeem Islam,' pumping their fists in the air. 'Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal,' they chanted as they walked in a funeral procession that filled streets around Al-Azhar mosque. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets after Friday midday prayers in rival rallies and marches across Cairo, as the standoff deepened over what opponents call the Islamist president's power grab, raising the specter of more violence. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

CAIRO — Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians ignored President Mohamed Morsy's televised appeal for calm and instead took the polarized country into a third week of unrest.

In the capital, they pushed past razor wire and concrete barriers to reach the presidential palace gates for a third day.

There they demanded that Morsy abandon his push for a constitution they say would impose Islamic rule or that he resign from the office he won in June.

Watching the huge crowd were troops in tanks and with the army's elite Republican Guard. The Republican Guard deployed around the palace on Thursday during violence between pro- and anti-Morsy factions that killed six people and wounded more than 700.

One protester, businessman Adel Tarakdjian, 57, said Morsy is “turning into an absolute dictator. He is stubborn and is defying the will of the people.”

Morsy on Thursday called for opposition leaders to meet with him on Saturday in an attempt to end the unrest that has entered a third week.

After the previous day's bloody street battles, the opposition seemed in no mood to talk.

Led by Nobel laureate and former United Nations diplomat Mohamed el-Baradei, the anti-Morsy Salvation Front coalition vowed not to negotiate until Morsy rescinds a Nov. 22 decree claiming near-absolute power. It also demanded that a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum be postponed or scrapped in favor of writing an acceptable alternative.

El-Baradei said that “the door for dialogue” is closed.

Suha Abdelazziz, 25, an accountant, said she listened to Morsy's speech and was not impressed.

“It wasn't directed at the Egyptian people. It was directed to the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said.

Morsy is a former leader of the Islamic-based Brotherhood; its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, controls parliament.

As long lines of protesters marched into Heliopolis, an upscale neighborhood where the presidential palace is located, they chanted, “Bread, freedom and we want it civil!” and “Leave, leave!”

In the all-out battle for Egypt's soul, both sides are portraying the other in derogatory terms.

At the palace, one man held aloft a stuffed sheep to symbolize Brotherhood members blindly following orders.

At Al Azhar mosque, Egypt's leading Islamic institution, Islamists mourned two Brotherhood members killed in earlier clashes. The mood was angry, with chants for revenge and “With our blood, with our spirit, we will sacrifice for you, oh Islam!”

One hard-line cleric denounced anti-Morsy forces as “traitors” and “a den of hash smokers.”

Many of the Islamists accused Egypt's media of bias. Their ultra-religious Salafi allies staged a protest outside the offices of independent television stations.

“We need to cleanse the media,” said Huweida Ghaneim, 35, who wore a black face veil. An engineering graduate of American University in Cairo, she said Egypt “will be an Islamic state. Egypt is not divided – it's 95 percent with the Islamists, and 5 percent is negligible.”

Ashraf Ahmed, 34, an accountant and Brotherhood member, demanded “revenge for the blood that was lost.” He repeated now-familiar Brotherhood calls to “cleanse the media” and to rid the country of “failed presidential candidates” and remnants of the ousted regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Ali Abdu Khalaf, who works in nearby Khan El Khaili bazaar, was not so sure. “I don't know who is right or who is wrong,” he said.

In the large industrial city of Mahalla, protesters reportedly forced out a Brotherhood member who headed the local council and declared autonomy from “the Brotherhood state.”

“President Morsy had a choice to either bring the country together or tear it apart,” said Nadine Sherif of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of many here who warn of escalating violence. “It seems clear that he has made his decision and civil war seems to be looming.”

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

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