More Morsi aides resign as tanks rumble into Cairo

INT
Resignations rocked the government of President Mohammed Morsi on Thursday as tanks from the special presidential guard took up positions around his palace and the state television headquarters after a night of street fighting between his Islamist supporters and their secular opponents that left at least 6 dead and 600 wounded.

Director of state broadcasting Essam El-Amir resigned Thursday, as did Rafik Habib, a Christian who was the vice-president of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the party's favourite example of its commitment to tolerance and pluralism. Their departures followed an announcement by Zaghoul el-Balshi, the new general secretary of the commission overseeing a planned constitutional referendum, that he was quitting. "I will not participate in a referendum that spilled Egyptian blood," he said in an interview during the clashes late Wednesday night.

With the resignations Thursday, nine Morsi administration officials have quit in protest in recent days. In a day of tension and uncertainty unlike any other since the revolt that overthrew Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago, state media reported Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, was meeting with his top advisers and would deliver a public address in response to the clashes. The top scholar of Al Azhar, the centre of Sunni Muslim learning considered Egypt's chief moral authority, urged both sides to pull back from violence and seek "rational dialogue."

The scale of the violence around the palace has raised the first doubts about Morsi's effort to hold a public referendum on Deember 15 to vote on a draft constitution approved by his Islamist allies over the objections of his secular opposition and the Coptic Christian Church.

About 1 pm Thursday, hundreds of his supporters who had camped outside his palace to defend it — many waking up with bandaged heads from wounds sustained from volleys of rocks and the blows of makeshift clubs the previous night — abruptly began to pull out of their encampment in unison, a development that suggested that their organizers in the Muslim Brotherhood had ordered a withdrawal. It took place just moments after several Brotherhood members camped there had vowed to stay put until the referendum.

The Egyptian military, which seized power from Mubarak in February 2011, saying it was stepping in to protect the legitimate demands of the public, stayed silent after a statement Wednesday that it would not intervene in a dispute between political factions.

Wednesday night's battle was the worst clash between political factions here since President Gamal Abdel Nasser's military coup six decades ago, and Egyptians across the political spectrum responded with shock and dismay.

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