The Egyptian army has called for President Mohammed Morsi and the secular opposition to meet to resolve the crisis. The appeal comes after thousands of Egyptians gathered on the streets of Cairo for rival demonstrations.
Armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (pictured left), who is also defense minister, made the appeal late on Tuesday for all parties to attend the meeting.
"The chief of the military and defense minister calls for a meeting for the sake of Egypt that will bring together national partners in the presence of the president of the republic," the statement said.
Opposition leaders were the first to call for mass demonstrations this Tuesday to voice their disapproval of the referendum on Egypt's draft constitution, which was drawn up by an Islamist-dominated assembly.
Supporters of President Morsi, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, subsequently called for a counter-demonstration. The Brotherhood's political wing holds the most seats in the assembly.
By Tuesday evening, thousands of opposition demonstrators had gathered in Cairo's Heliopolis neighborhood, where some attempted to pull down concrete barriers meant to keep them away from the presidential palace. The president's supporters, meanwhile, assembled in a separate district of the capital.
Morsi's opponents are demanding that he cancel the referendum, scheduled to be held on Saturday. They argue that, if ratified, the constitution, which would undermine human rights in the country, particularly regarding women and religious minorities.
The dispute has sparked Egypt's worst unrest since long-time President Hosni Mubarak stepped down almost two years ago, as a result of weeks of mass protest against his rule.
At least seven people were killed and many more injured in clashes between rival supporters near the palace last week.
Over the weekend, the president attempted to defuse the crisis by rescinding a decree that had put his decisions above judicial review. However, he stopped short of cancelling the referendum, as demanded by the opposition.
pfd,rc/sej (dpa, AFP)