|Egypt’s main opposition calls for ‘no’ vote against constitution|
| 12/12/2012 : 18:10:09
|Egypt’s main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, called Wednesday on the Egyptian people to vote “no” against a controversial draft constitution in a two-stage referendum on Dec. 15 and 22, Al Arabiya TV reported.|
“We call on citizens to vote ‘no’ in the referendum on the constitution,” the Front said in a statement read out by a spokesman at a Cairo news conference.
The opposition had previously demanded that the referendum, due to be held over two days -- on Saturday and a week later on December 22 -- be called off.
Hamdeen Sabahi, head of the Dignity Party and one of the opposition leaders, said the Egyptian people have the “opportunity” to foil the constitution project when voting.
The announcement also came after Egypt’s armed forces chief and defense minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, said that the unity talks called by his ministry for the country’s divided political forces to meet was postponed.
The televised appeal by al-Sissi came late Tuesday, as rival camps of President Mohammed Mursi supporters and opponents brought tens of thousands of people out for separate mass rallies in Cairo.
The Egyptian army called on Mursi and oppositional groups, including youth movements, judges and journalists, to hold unity talks on Wednesday to stop a crisis over an imminent constitutional referendum from tearing the country apart.
The military has said it fears the Arab world’s most populous country is headed for a disastrous “dark tunnel” unless the two sides talk. It has warned it will not allow the situation to worsen.
Troops have orders to use police powers to protect state institutions until results are announced from the referendum, which is scheduled for Saturday.
The unity talks scheduled for 14:30 GMT were called in response to a wave of protests since President Mursi awarded himself sweeping powers on Nov. 22 to push through a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies, which is due to go to a referendum on Saturday.
“We will not speak about politics nor about the referendum. Tomorrow we will sit together as Egyptians,” Sissi said at the gathering of army and police officials.
The United States has urged Egypt’s military -- which it provides with billions of dollars each year -- “to exercise restraint, to respect the right of peaceful protest.”
Washington said there were “real and legitimate questions” about the referendum process.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said there were fears for “public order surrounding the polling”, but urged Egypt’s military to show restraint.
The prolonged crisis, the worst since a popular uprising overthrew autocratic president Hosni Mubarak early last year, is intensifying uncertainty over Egypt’s economy.
The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday put on hold a $4.8-billion loan Egypt has sought to fill budget gaps it will face in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The IMF had been expected to review the loan, which would have come with budget-cutting requirements attached, this month for final approval.
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