Protests erupt after Morsi seizes powers

Opponents of President Mohammed Morsi were reported to have set fire to his party offices in several Egyptian cities on Friday in a spasm of protest and clashes after he granted himself broad powers above any court declaring himself the guardian of Egypt's revolution, and used his new authority to order the retrial of Hosni Mubarak.

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, opponents of Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party clashed with followers of Morsi, an Islamist, who won Western and regional plaudits only days ago for brokering a ceasefire to halt days of lethal exchanges between Israeli forces and militants in the Gaza Strip.

Morsi, Egypt's first democratically-elected president, portrayed his decree assuming the new powers as an attempt to fulfil popular demands for justice and protect the transition to a constitutional democracy. He said it was necessary to overcome gridlock and competing interests. But the unexpected breadth of the powers he seized raised immediate fears that he might become a new strongman.

"We are, God willing, moving forward, and no one stands in our way," Reuters quoted Morsi as saying Friday.

He spoke as state television reported that his party's offices in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia had been burned. Thousands of people protesting Morsi's power grab gathered in Tahrir Square here — the focal point of protests that, last year, swept away Mubarak. Elsewhere in the capital, the president's supporters massed in even larger numbers outside the presidential palace where Morsi said his aim was "to achieve political, social and economic stability."

Sounding defensive at times and employing some of the language favoured by his autocratic predecessor, Morsi justified his power grab as necessary to move Egypt's revolution forward.

News reports said clashes spread from Alexandria to the southern city of Assyut.

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