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Hundreds of thousands march for Egyptian leader’s removal



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As the crowds massed, Morsi’s spokesman Ihab Fahmi repeated the president’s longstanding offer of dialogue with the opposition to resolve the nation’s political crisis, calling it "the only framework through which we can reach understandings."

The opposition has repeatedly turned down his offers for dialogue, arguing that they were for show.

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Near Ittihadiya palace, thousands of Islamists gathered in a show of support for Morsi outside the Rabia al-Adawiya mosque. Some Morsi backers wore homemade body armor and construction helmets and carried shields and clubs — precautions, they said, against possible violence.

The demonstrations are the culmination of polarization and instability that have been building since Morsi’s June 30, 2012, inauguration. The past year has seen multiple political crises, bouts of bloody clashes and a steadily worsening economy, with power outages, fuel shortages, rising prices and persistent lawlessness and crime.

In one camp are the president and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line groups. Morsi supporters accuse Mubarak loyalists of being behind the protests, aiming to overturn last year’s election results, just as they argue that remnants of the old regime have sabotaged Morsi’s attempts to deal with the nation’s woes and bring reforms.

Hard-liners among them have also given the confrontation a sharply religious tone, denouncing Morsi’s opponents as "enemies of God" and infidels.

On the other side is an array of secular and liberal Egyptians, moderate Muslims, Christians — and what the opposition says is a broad sector of the general public that has turned against the Islamists. They say the Islamists have negated their election mandate by trying to monopolize power, infusing government with their supporters, forcing through a constitution they largely wrote and giving religious extremists a free hand, all while failing to manage the country.

"The country is only going backward. He’s embarrassing us and making people hate Islam," said Donia Rashad, a 24-year-old unemployed woman who wears the conservative Islamic headscarf. "We need someone who can feel the people and is agreeable to the majority."

As they marched toward the presidential palace, some chanted, "You lied to us in the name of religion," and others raised a banner proclaiming, "Morsi(equals)Mubarak. Early presidential elections." The crowds, including women, children and elderly people, hoisted long banners in the colors of the Egyptian flag and raised red cards — a sign of expulsion in soccer.

In Tahrir, chants of "erhal!", or "leave!" thundered around the square. The crowd, which appeared to number some 300,000, waved Egyptian flags and posters of Morsi with a red X over his face. They whistled and waved when military helicopters swooped close overhead, reflecting their belief that the army favors them over Morsi.


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A week ago, with the public sense of worry growing over the upcoming confrontation, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi demanded the president and his opponents reach a compromise. He warned that the military would intervene to prevent the nation from entering a "dark tunnel."

Army troops backed by armored vehicles were deployed Sunday in some of Cairo’s suburbs, with soldiers at traffic lights and major intersections. In the evening, they deployed near the international airport, state TV said.

Similarly sized crowds turned out in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta cities of Mansoura, Tanta and Damanhour, with sizeable rallies in cities nationwide.

"Today is the Brotherhood’s last day in power," Suliman Mohammed, a manager of a seafood company, said in Tahrir.

The opposition protests emerge from a petition campaign by a youth activist group known as Tamarod, Arabic for "Rebel." For several months, the group has been collecting signatures on a call for Morsi to step down.

On Saturday, the group announced it had more than 22 million signatures — proof, it claims, that a broad sector of the public no longer wants Morsi in office.

It was not possible to verify the claim. If true, it would be nearly twice the some 13 million people who voted for Morsi in last year’s presidential run-off election, which he won with around 52 percent of the vote. Tamarod organizers said they discarded about 100,000 signed forms because they were duplicates.

Morsi’s supporters have questioned the authenticity and validity of the signatures, but have produced no evidence of fraud.

At the pro-Morsi rally at the Rabia al-Adawiya mosque, the crowd chanted, "God is great," and some held up copies of Islam’s holy book, the Quran.

"The people hold the legitimacy and we support Dr. Mohamed Morsi," said Ahmed Ramadan, one of the rally participants. "We would like to tell him not to be affected by the opponents’ protests and not to give up his rights. We are here to support and protect him."

One of the world’s most prominent Muslim clerics, Sheik Yousef El-Qaradawi, who is close to the Brotherhood, appealed to Egyptians to give Morsi a chance, saying if Morsi goes, "someone who’s worse than Morsi" would replace him.

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