Thousands of Egyptians have marched towards the presidential palace in Cairo for another day of demonstrations against the government, while thousands of his backers gathered for a funeral of two men killed in recent clashes.
As many as 10,000 protesters who were penned behind a barrier at the palace broke through barricades on Friday evening, climbing onto army tanks and waving flags as they chanted slogans against President Mohamed Morsi.
Republican Guard soldiers did not engage with the protesters who broke through the barrier, and protesters, in turn, did not attack them. Morsi was not at the palace.
Morsi’s supporters, meanwhile, were teargassed when they attempted to storm the studios of private television news channels they deemed to be biased against the president.
The protests on Friday came as the country’s main opposition groups rejected Morsi’s call for a national political dialogue to resolve the political crisis.
Rival rallies were also held in Alexandria and Luxor, and some violence was reported from a demonstration outside a Muslim Brotherhood office in the Nile Delta city of Kom Hamada. Protests also took place in Mahallah and Assiut.
In an overnight address to the nation, Morsi pledged to forge on with a controversial constitutional referendum process.
The president condemned the street violence that has gripped the capital following protests against an earlier decree that put presidential orders beyond judicial review.
He called the recent violence “regrettable”, and blamed it on “infiltrators” funded by unnamed third parties.
Rejecting Morsi’s call for dialogue, Ahmed Said, one of the leading members of the opposition coalition, who also heads the liberal Free Egyptians Party, said: “The National Salvation Front [NSF] is not taking part in the dialogue, that is the official stance.”
Khaled Daood, a spokesperson for the NSF, told Al Jazeera the coalition was demanding that Morsi delay the vote on the draft constitution and rescind his presidential decree granting himself greater powers before any dialogue.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition leader whose party is a member of the NSF, also urged political forces to shun the dialogue process. The liberal Wafd party added its voice to that call.
Early voting postponed
Opposition groups have said they will step up their campaign against the decree and the referendum set for December 15. Early voting in the referendum, however, was postponed, and will now open on Dec 12, rather than Dec 8 as originally planned.
Morsi’s government said on Friday that the date of the referendum could not be changed by the president, and was decided by the country’s High Electoral Commission.
The NSF pledged that any anti-Morsi protests would be peaceful.
Soldiers and riot police have been deployed outside the palace to prevent protesters from approaching the building.
Dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as barricades of barbed wire, form a ring around the compound.
At the funeral held by Morsi’s supporters after midday prayers at the al-Azhar mosque, Egypt’s most respected Islamic institution, a cleric declared anti-Morsi protesters to be “traitors”.
Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were “murderers”.
The president’s remarks overnight were his first comments to the public after bloody clashes outside his palace on Wednesday.
Thousands of backers of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organisation Morsi resigned from on becoming president, fought with his opponents, resulting in at least six deaths. At least 700 people were also wounded.
The speech brought shouts of “the people want to topple the regime!” from the crowd of 30,000 Morsi opponents gathered outside the palace – the same chant heard in the protests that brought down former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
In response to the speech, ElBaradei held his own televised press conference, saying that Morsi’s government showed reluctance in acting to stop Wednesday night’s bloodshed outside the palace.
He said this failure has eroded the government’s legitimacy and made it difficult for his opposition front to negotiate with the president.
At least four of Morsi’s advisers have resigned over the crisis, and the Cairo stock market has fallen significantly.
On Friday, the prosecution released 138 out of 150 people detained during the clashes between pro and anti-Morsi supporters on Wednesday.