Cairo, Dec. 14 (Reuters): Stone-throwing supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi clashed in the Egyptian city of Alexandria today ahead of a referendum on a new Constitution that has divided the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Dozens of activists fought with clubs and swords, witnesses said, and cars were set alight on the streets of Egypt’s second biggest city on the eve of a vote that Mursi hopes will bring an end to the country’s worsening political crisis.
A large crowd of anti-Mursi protesters armed with knives and clubs later surrounded an Alexandria mosque, trapping inside a preacher who had criticised those planning to oppose the constitution when voting begins tomorrow.
In Cairo, flag-waving pro-Mursi Islamists staged a final rally before the referendum, but the gathering outside one of the capital’s main mosques was peaceful. Members of the liberal, secular and Christian Opposition gathered outside the presidential palace to demonstrate against a proposed Constitution they say is too heavily influenced by Islamists.
Cairo and other cities have often seen violent demonstrations over the past three weeks since Mursi assumed sweeping new powers to push through the Constitution, which he sees as a vital element of Egypt’s transition to democracy after the overthrow of autocratic predecessor Hosni Mubarak last year.
At least eight people have died and hundreds have been injured, and a leading Opposition figure has warned of more violence during the voting. The referendum, to be held on two days because there are not enough judges willing to monitor all polling stations, asks Egyptians to accept or reject a basic law that must be in place before national elections can be held early next year.