Tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied on Tuesday against President Mohammed Morsi in one of the biggest outpourings of protest since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow, accusing the Islamist leader of seeking to impose a new era of autocracy.
Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths in streets near the main protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square, heart of the uprising that toppled Mubarak last year. Clashes between Morsi's opponents and supporters erupted in a city north of Cairo.
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But violence could not overshadow the show of strength by the normally divided opponents of Islamists in power, posing Morsi with the biggest challenge in his five months in office.
"The people want to bring down the regime," protesters in Tahrir chanted, echoing slogans used in the 2011 revolt.
Protesters also turned out in Alexandria, Suez, Minya and other Nile Delta cities.
Police used tear gas (Photo: EPA)
Tuesday's unrest by leftists, liberals and other groups deepened the worst crisis since the Muslim Brotherhood politician was elected in June, and exposed the deep divide between the newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.
A 52-year-old protester died after inhaling tear gas in Cairo, the second death since Morsi last week issued a decree that expanded his powers and barred court challenges to his decisions.
Morsi's administration has defended the decree as an effort to speed up reforms and complete a democratic transformation in the Arab world's most populous country.
Tahrir Square Wednesday morning (Photo: Reuters)
"Calls for civil disobedience and strikes will be dealt with strictly by law and there is no retreat from the decree," Refa'a Al-Tahtawy, Morsi's presidential chief of staff, told the Al-Hayat private satellite channel.
But opponents say Morsi is behaving like a modern-day pharaoh, a jibe once leveled at Mubarak. The United States, a benefactor to Egypt's military, has expressed concern about more turbulence in a country that has a peace treaty with Israel.
"We don't want a dictatorship again. The Mubarak regime was a dictatorship. We had a revolution to have justice and freedom," 32-year-old Ahmed Husseini said in Cairo.
Tuesday's protest (Photo: Reuters)
Young protester (Photo: AP)
'No to dictator Morsi' (Photo: EPA)
Some protesters have been camped out since Friday in Tahrir and violence has flared around the country, including in a town north of Cairo where a Muslim Brotherhood youth was killed in clashes on Sunday. Hundreds have been injured.
Supporters and opponents of Morsi threw stones at each other and some hurled petrol bombs in the Delta city of el-Mahalla el-Kubra. Medical sources said almost 200 people were injured.
Trying to ease tensions with judges, Morsi assured Egypt's highest judicial authority that elements of his decree giving his decisions immunity applied only to matters of "sovereign" importance. That should limit it to issues such as declaring war, but experts said there was room for interpretation.
In another step to avoid more confrontation, the Muslim Brotherhood cancelled plans for a rival mass rally in Cairo on Tuesday to support the decree. Violence has flared in Cairo in the past when both sides have taken to the streets.
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