- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 5, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday in large-scale clashes that marked the worst violence of a deepening crisis over the disputed constitution.

Egypt’s Health Ministry said 126 people were wounded in the clashes, which still were raging hours after nightfall.

Three of Mr. Morsi’s aides resigned in protest of his handling of the crisis. With two aides who had quit earlier, now five of his panel of 17 advisers have left their jobs since the problems began.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition advocate of reform and democracy, said Mr. Morsi’s rule was “no different” from that of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose authoritarian regime was toppled in an uprising nearly two years ago.

“In fact, it is perhaps even worse,” Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate, told a news conference after he accused the president’s supporters of a “vicious and deliberate” attack on peaceful demonstrators.

Fireworks burst over Tahrir Square as demonstrators gather in Cairo on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, to protest Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's seizure of nearly unrestricted powers. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Fireworks burst over Tahrir Square as demonstrators gather in Cairo on Tuesday, ... more >

The opposition is demanding that Mr. Morsi rescind decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelve a disputed draft constitution that the president’s Islamist allies passed hurriedly last week.

The dueling demonstrations and violence are part of a political crisis that has left the country divided into two camps: Islamists versus an opposition made up of youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public. Both sides have dug in their heels, signaling a protracted standoff.

The latest clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. The Islamists, members of Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, chased the protesters away from their base outside the palace’s main gate and tore down their tents.

The protesters scattered to side streets, where they chanted anti-Morsi slogans. After a lull in fighting, hundreds of young Morsi opponents arrived at the scene and immediately began throwing firebombs at the president’s backers, who responded with rocks.

“I voted for Morsi to get rid of Hosni Mubarak. I now regret it,” Nadia el-Shafie yelled at the Brotherhood supporters from a side street. “God is greater than you. Don’t think this power or authority will add anything to you. God made this revolution, not you,” said the tearful Ms. el-Shafie as she was led away from the crowd of Islamists.

By nightfall, about 10,000 Islamists were outside the palace. They set up metal barricades to keep traffic off a stretch of road that runs parallel to the palace in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis district. Some of them appeared to plan to stage their own sit-in.

“May God protect Egypt and its president,” read a banner hoisted on a truck that came with the Islamists. Atop, a man using a loudspeaker recited verses from the Quran.

“We came to support the president. We feel there is a legitimacy that someone is trying to rob,” said engineer Rabi Mohammed, a Brotherhood supporter. “People are rejecting democratic principles using thuggery.”

At least 100,000 opposition supporters rallied outside the palace on Tuesday, and smaller protests were staged by the opposition elsewhere in Cairo and across much of Egypt. It was the latest of a series of mass protests against the president

Buoyed by the massive turnout on Tuesday, the mostly secular opposition held a series of meetings late Tuesday and Wednesday to decide on next steps in the standoff, which began Nov. 22 with Mr. Morsi’s decrees that placed him above oversight of any kind.

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