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Morsi grants police powers to Egyptian military

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has granted the army powers of arrest in the run-up to the referendum on the country's controversial new constitution. The move comes one day ahead of planned mass opposition protests.

Morsi's latest decree, published Monday in the government gazette, grants the military police powers, including the authority to arrest civilians in the days before the December 15 referendum.

It orders the military to cooperate with police "to preserve security and protect vital state institutions for a temporary period, up to the announcement of the results from the referendum," according to the gazette.

It also warned it "will not allow" the situation to deteriorate, and urged dialogue from both sides.

The announcement follows a series of clashes between Morsi supporters and protesters of the new constitution that have left seven people dead and hundreds injured.

The document, drafted by the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly, has been criticized for undermining the rights of women and religious minorities, and for weakening the independent judiciary.

Egypt's military, led by former Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, ran the country from the ousting of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 until Morsi's election last June.

The military had attempted to remain neutral in the current crisis involving Morsi, but since last Thursday tanks have been deployed around the presidential palace, though they have not confronted the thousands of protesters regularly gathered there.

Mass protests called

On Saturday, Morsi annulled a November 22 decree that had put all of his decisions above judicial review. The opposition National Salvation Front issued a statement late on Sunday after meeting to discuss how to respond.

The statement included a call for Egyptians to hold mass demonstrations across the country on Tuesday "as a rejection of the president's decision that goes against our legitimate demands."

Morsi's initial decrees, which also shielded constitutional assembly from the judiciary, also sparked a series of sometimes violent street protests.

Though some may have seen Morsi's decision as a step in the right direction, it failed to address another of the opposition's key demands: that the referendum on the draft constitution be canceled.

"We do not recognize the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people," the opposition National Salvation Front said in a statement read out to reporters at a Cairo press conference. "We reject the referendum, which will certainly lead to more division and sedition."

The Muslim Brotherhood, who backed Morsi in his election, announced rallies of their own on Tuesday to counter the opposition, with spokesman Mahmud Ghozlan telling the AFP news agency, "We are calling for a demonstration Tuesday, under the slogan 'Yes to legitimacy.'"

dr,pfd/hc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)