One person has been killed and hundreds injured after after an estimated 200,000 people crammed into Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital to protest against President Mohamed Morsi, who last week granted himself sweeping powers.
In the biggest protest against Egypt’s new president thus far, people demanded an end to Morsi’s new powers on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
One person died of a heart attack after inhaling tear gas as protesters and riot police clashed in Cairo near Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
“The people want the regime to fall,” the crowds chanted.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria protesters attacked the local office of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, while In Mahalla, north of Cairo, anti-Morsi protesters held a large rally.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abel-Hamid, reporting from Cairo on Tuesday night, said there were no indications that Morsi was going to rescind the decree extending his powers.
“We are hearing reports of different influential Egyptians who are trying to come up with a solution, some sort of common ground that would be acceptable,” she said.
A rival rally in Cairo by the Muslim Brotherhood in support of the president was called off to “avoid potential unrest” but that has done little to heal the division among supporters and foes of Morsi.
“The Muslim Brotherhood stole the revolution” read one banner in Tahrir.
Another said the president was “pushing the people to civil disobedience”.
“The Muslim Brotherhood are liars,” read another.
The demonstrations come a day after Morsi met the country’s senior judges in a bid to defuse the crisis over the decree, which has sparked deadly clashes and prompted judges and journalists to call for strike.
On Monday, Morsi met with the nation’s top judges and tried to win their acceptance of his decrees. But the move was dismissed by many in the opposition and the judiciary as providing no real concessions.
The senior judges who met Morsi were in an “emergency session” on Tuesday night, according to our correspondent, “trying to come up with one united stance”.
Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali said Morsi told the judges that he acted within his rights as the nation’s sole source of legislation, assuring them that the decrees were temporary and did not in any way infringe on the judiciary.
He underlined repeatedly that the president had no plans to change or amend his decrees.
‘Assault on independence’
According to a presidential statement late on Monday, Morsi told the judges that his decree meant that any decisions he makes on “issues of sovereignty” are immune from judicial review.
|The decree has sparked violent protests
in Cairo and across the country
The vaguely worded statement did not define those issues, but they were widely interpreted to cover declaration of war, imposition of martial law, breaking diplomatic relations with a foreign nation or dismissing a cabinet.
Morsi’s original edict, however, explicitly gives immunity to all his decisions and there was no sign it had been changed.
The statement on Monday did not affect the immunity that Morsi gave the constitutional assembly or the upper chamber of parliament, known as the Shura Council.
It also did not affect the edict that the president can take any measures he sees as necessary to stop threats to the revolution, stability or public institutions. Many see that edict as granting Morsi unlimited emergency powers.
Morsi, who has been in power since June, has said the decrees are necessary to protect the “revolution” and the nation’s transition to democratic rule.
The judiciary, the main target of Morsi’s edicts, called the decrees a power grab and an “assault” on the branch’s independence.