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Egypt's vice president resigns as voting concludes

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 9:26 p.m.
Officials count ballots after polls closed in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22, 2012. Early indications showed Egyptians approved an Islamist-drafted constitution after Saturday's final round of voting in a referendum despite opposition criticism of the measure as divisive. REUTERS/Stringer (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Egypt's Vice-President Mahmoud Mekky is seen in this handout photo made available by the Egyptian Presidency in Cairo in this August 30, 2012 file photo. Mekky has resigned from his post a presidential source said on December 22, 2012, without giving any reason. The source said the presidential spokesman would issue a statement shortly. Mekky took a leading role in hosting 'national unity' talks called by President Mohamed Mursi, although the main opposition politicians stayed away. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout/Files (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

As an estimated 70 percent of Egyptians backed a referendum on a new constitution in its final vote on Saturday, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki announced his resignation.

Mekki cited a conflict between politics and his profession as a judge.

President Mohamed Morsy has been confronted with a series of clashes in a run-up to the vote.

Several of his advisers have quit since he issued a decree last month shielding his decisions from judicial oversight and called for a referendum. Mekki had said he would resign after the referendum.

Mekki's early departure is a “big blow” to Morsy, said Khalil el-Anani, a Middle East scholar at Durham University in Britain. “Everyone from the presidential team has resigned except for the Islamists, which is part of the general political isolation” that Morsy — and the Muslim Brotherhood that backed him for the presidency ­— are facing.

The draft constitution has provoked weeks of rallies and violent confrontations between opponents of Morsy and his Islamist supporters, including members of the Brotherhood. Secular and youth groups said the charter, which was approved by an Islamist-dominated panel, limits freedoms and is unrepresentative of Egyptian society.

Further confusion was churned up on Saturday when a report by state television that central bank Governor Farouk El-Okdah had resigned was swiftly denied by the cabinet in an emailed statement. El-Okdah had indicated before that he planned to retire by year-end for health reasons, according to local press reports.

Morsy's “credibility and legitimacy are becoming increasingly questioned, which means that, with the current volatile situation and political polarization, more instability for the country,” el-Anani said.

In the first round of the poll on Dec. 15, initial results showed 57 percent voted “yes,” while 43 percent rejected the document.

Polls closed at 11 p.m. because Egypt's elections committee decided to extend voting by four hours, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. The Muslim Brotherhood said on its website early Sunday that counting from 78 percent of the polling stations throughout Egypt showed 71 percent approved the charter and 28 percent rejected it.

“To most people, this referendum is not a vote on the constitution; it's a vote on the direction they want to see: Islamist or liberal,” Mohamed Hendy, 42, said in the Giza neighborhood of Mohandesin as he waited to cast a “no” vote. Every time we head to the polls, “things grow more complicated and polarization increases.”

Low turnout on Dec. 15 ­— about 32 percent — underscored the weariness of many Egyptians who have seen little improvement in their daily lives since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February 2011.

“What I want now is for the country to stabilize, people to work, the economy to recover, and investors to return,” said retired engineer Amin Abdou, 65, as he waited in line in Giza's Imbaba district to cast his “yes” vote. “If we say ‘no' to the constitution, we will go back to square one.”

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