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Cairo - Egypt on Wednesday plunged deeper into its worst political crisis since Islamist President Mohamed Morsi took office in June, with massive opposition rallies nationwide signalling a new “revolution” nearly two years after Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
Police early on Wednesday fired teargas into Cairo's Tahrir Square, where several hundred protesters spent the night after a mass rally to denounce Morsi's power grab.
Clashes that have been erupting on streets just off Tahrir near the US embassy spilled into the square, with canisters falling into the crowd forcing protesters to run and sending clouds of teargas over the tents housing the demonstrators.
The outskirts of the square have seen sporadic clashes now entering their ninth day, in what started as an anniversary protest to mark one year since deadly confrontations with police in the same area.
Clashes also raged through the night between supporters and opponents of Morsi in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla and the canal city of Port Said.
In Mahalla, 132 people were injured while 27 were hurt in Port Said, medical sources told AFP. According to a security official, calm in both towns had been restored by morning.
Tuesday's huge turnout for a protest rally in the iconic square in the heart of Cairo, as well as in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and most of Egypt's 27 provinces, marked the largest mobilisation yet against the president.
“The revolution returns to the square,” headlined the state-owned daily Al-Akhbar.
“Revolution to save the revolution,” said the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm in a bold front-page headline.
Protesters are furious at the decree that Morsi announced last Thursday allowing him to “issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal”, which effectively placed him beyond judicial oversight.
The move helped consolidate the long-divided opposition, with leading dissidents former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa uniting with former presidential candidates in the face of Morsi and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket Morsi ran for office.
The Brotherhood and the secular-leaning opposition had stood side by side in Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011 as they fought to bring down Mubarak and his regime.
But since the strongman's downfall in February last year, the Islamist movement has been accused of monopolising politics after dominating parliament - following vows not field candidates for a majority of the seats - and backtracking on a promise not to nominate a presidential candidate.
The movement went on to dominate a committee tasked with drafting the country's new constitution, prompting a string of walkouts by liberals, leftists and churches who say the panel fails to represent all Egyptians.
Morsi's decree also bans any judicial body from dissolving the controversial panel, putting him on a collision course with the judiciary. Several courts have suspended work in protest.
The decree is temporary, valid only until a new constitution is in place, and Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party says the measures are aimed at speeding up a seemingly endless transition.
US officials said Washington was closely following the drama unfolding in Egypt, with a warning that Cairo could put vast amounts of international aid at stake if it veers off the democratic course.
The situation was evolving, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“I think we don't yet know what the outcome of those are going to be. But that's a far cry from an autocrat just saying, my way or the highway,” she said.
Nuland stressed that “we want to see Egypt continuing on a reform path to ensure that any money forthcoming from the IMF truly supports a stabilisation and a revitalisation of a dynamic economy based on market principles.”
The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said Egypt can still get its $4.8 billion loan, agreed last week, despite the turmoil as long as there is “no major change” in its reform commitments. - AFP