Egypt Constitution: Islamists Claim First Win

Islamists backing a new constitution for Egypt have claimed victory in an initial phase of a two-stage referendum.

But the opposition has alleged polling violations and said it would await the final results due in a week's time.

The two sides' positions drew out the deep uncertainty and division seen in Egypt over the past three weeks, a period marked by mass protests and deadly clashes.

A small majority of 56.5% voted for the draft charter put to half of Egypt's 51 million voters on Saturday, according to the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian media reported roughly the same figure, which fell short of the landslide the Brotherhood had been hoping for to quiet the restive opposition.

But the opposition National Salvation Front coalition said in a statement that it "will not recognise any unofficial result," and will wait for the formal tally after next Saturday's second round of voting.

Mr Morsi and his backers say the constitution is vital to move Egypt's democratic transition forward.

But opponents say the basic law is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights, including those of Christians who make up 10% of the population.

Violence between the charter's supporters and opponents flared in Egypt's two largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, before and after the referendum.

Demonstrations erupted when Mr Morsi awarded himself extra powers on November 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies.

However, the vote passed off calmly, with long queues in Cairo and several other places, although unofficial tallies indicated turnout was around one-third of the 26 million people eligible to vote this time.

The vote was staggered because many of the judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest.

International watchdogs, the UN human rights chief, the US and the EU have all expressed reservations about the draft because of loopholes that could be used to weaken human rights.