CORRECTED-Egyptian opposition to shun Mursi's national dialogue

Edmund Blair and Yasmine Saleh
Reuters Middle East

(Corrects Mursi's title to president in paragraph 1)

* National dialogue spurned by main opposition leaders

* Deputy says president could delay constitution vote

* Opposition demand end to Mursi's expanded powers

* Protesters surge around presidential palace

CAIRO, Dec 8 (Reuters) - President Mohamed Mursi was

expected to press ahead on Saturday with talks on ways to end

Egypt's worst crisis since he took office even though the

country's main opposition leaders have vowed to stay away.

Cairo and other cities have been rocked by violent protests

since Nov. 22, when Mursi promulgated a decree awarding himself

sweeping powers that put him above the law.

The upheaval in the most populous Arab nation, following the

fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, worries the West, in particular

the United States, which has given it billions of dollars in

military and other aid since Egypt made peace with Israel in


Mursi's deputy raised the possibility that a referendum set

for Dec. 15 on a new constitution opposed by liberals might be

delayed. But the concession only goes part-way towards meeting

the demands of the opposition, who also want Mursi to scrap the

decree awarding himself wide powers.

On Friday, large crowds of protesters surged around the

presidential palace, breaking through barbed wire barricades and

climbing on tanks guarding the seat of Egypt's first freely

elected president, who took office in June.

As the night wore on, tens of thousands of opposition

supporters were still at the palace, waving flags and urging

Mursi to "Leave, leave".


"We will stay here for as long as it takes and will continue

to organise protests elsewhere until President Mursi cancels his

constitutional decree and postpones the referendum," said

Ahmed Essam, 28, a computer engineer and a member of the liberal

Dostour party.

Vice President Mahmoud Mekky issued a statement saying the

president was prepared to postpone the referendum if that could

be done without legal challenge.

Mursi's planned dialogue meeting was expected to go ahead on

Saturday in the absence of most opposition factions. "Everything

will be on the table," a presidential source said.

Mursi could be joined by some senior judiciary figures and

politicians such as Ayman Nour, one of the candidates in

Mubarak's only multi-candidate presidential race, in 2005, in

which he was unsurprisingly trounced.

The opposition has demanded that Mursi rescind the decree

giving himself wide powers and delay the vote set for Dec. 15 on

a constitution drafted by an Islamist-led assembly which they

say fails to meet the aspirations of all Egyptians.


The state news agency reported that the election committee

had postponed the start of voting for Egyptians abroad until

Wednesday, instead of Saturday as planned. It did not say

whether this would affect the timing of voting within Egypt.

Ahmed Said, leader of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, told

Reuters that delaying expatriate voting was intended to seem

like a concession but would not change the opposition's stance.

The opposition organised marches converging on the palace

which Republican Guard units had ringed with tanks and barbed

wire on Thursday after violence between supporters and opponents

of Mursi killed seven people and wounded 350.

Islamists, who had obeyed a military order for demonstrators

to leave the palace environs, held funerals on Friday at Cairo's

al-Azhar mosque for six Mursi partisans who were among the dead.

"With our blood and souls, we sacrifice to Islam," they


A group led by leftist opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy has

called for an open-ended protest at the palace.

Some pro-Mursi demonstrators gathered in a mosque not far

from the palace, but said they would not march towards the

palace to avoid a repeat of the violence that took place on

Wednesday night.

In a speech late on Thursday, Mursi had refused to retract

his decree or cancel the referendum on the constitution, but

offered talks on the way forward after the referendum.

The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition,

said it would not join the dialogue. The Front's coordinator,

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace laureate, dismissed the offer

as "arm-twisting and imposition of a fait accompli".

ElBaradei said that if Mursi were to scrap the decree with

which he awarded himself extra powers and postpone the

referendum "he will unite the national forces".

Murad Ali, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom

and Justice Party, said opposition reactions were sad: "What

exit to this crisis do they have other than dialogue?" he asked.

(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Giles Elgood;

Editing by Michael Roddy and Paul Tait)

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