BEIRUT

Middle East

Egypt resumes voting on constitution

Egyptians walk into a polling center to vote in the country's constitutional referendum in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

CAIRO: Voting in Egypt's constitutional referendum was largely incident-free Wednesday after clashes left nine people dead the previous day, with turnout seen as key to a likely presidential bid by the army chief.

Dozens of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi blocked a metro railway station in a Cairo suburb on Wednesday, security officials said, but there were no reports of disruptions to polling.

On Tuesday, sporadic clashes in various parts of the country between supporters of Morsi and their opponents and police left at least nine dead, marring what otherwise had been peaceful voting.

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected and civilian president, was ousted by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in July following mass protests against his turbulent one year rule.

The constitution, which replaces the one passed under Morsi, is expected to be approved despite a boycott by his Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Just 33 percent of the country's 53 million voters turned out in a referendum on a charter drafted by Morsi's team, which was approved with 64 percent of the votes cast.

Tuesday's violence highlighted the government's precarious grip on the most populous Arab nation, which is still reeling from Morsi's ouster and a crackdown on his supporters.

Around 250 people were also arrested on Tuesday, among them members of the Brotherhood, for disrupting polling in areas.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes since Morsi's ouster, and thousands have been arrested, including the top leadership of the Brotherhood.

Morsi's Brotherhood was designated a terrorist group by the military-installed authorities as part of their crackdown on the movement that dominated all polls since the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was concerned by reports of violence during the vote but added it was awaiting reports from "independent observers on the technical merits of the ongoing referendum".

She also said a clause in a Congress bill expected to pass on Friday allows the White House to unfreeze $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in aid to Cairo if it can certify that Egypt "has held a constitutional referendum, and is taking steps to support a democratic transition".

In October, Washington suspended the annual aid following a deadly crackdown by the Egyptian government on Morsi's supporters.

Egyptian media came out in praise of Tuesday's first day of polling.

"Yes, even if criminals hate it," said a front page headline in Al-Wafd, a private daily, referring disparagingly to supporters of Morsi.

"Egyptians choose their future as millions write history," said state-owned daily Al-Gomhuria.

The Egyptian government hopes a large turnout in favour of the new constitution will bolster its disputed authority, while army chief Sisi will monitor it for an "indicator" of his popularity, an official close to the general said.

Interim president Adly Mansour's government has pledged the referendum will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.

Backers of the charter are hoping it will garner the support of at least 70 percent of votes cast.

"We trusted the Muslim Brotherhood and agreed on their constitution, their government, their parliament... but they cheated us," said Jihan Abdel Aziz, as she waited outside a Cairo polling station to cast her vote Wednesday.

"We are now voting for this constitution to bring us out of this crisis."

Authorities worry a low turnout would empower their Islamist opponents and cast further doubts on their legitimacy, analysts say. State media gave no indication of what voter turnout had been on the first day of the polls, and there has been no official announcement.

Security forces had deployed across the country amid fears recent attacks by militants would deter voters.

Many Islamists revile Sisi after he overthrew Morsi, but the general is adored by millions who took to the streets to demand the Islamist's resignation.

Sisi is widely expected to run for president, and has said he would stand if there was "popular demand", state media reported this week.

 

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Summary

Voting in Egypt's constitutional referendum was largely incident-free Wednesday after clashes left nine people dead the previous day, with turnout seen as key to a likely presidential bid by the army chief.

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected and civilian president, was ousted by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in July following mass protests against his turbulent one year rule.

The constitution, which replaces the one passed under Morsi, is expected to be approved despite a boycott by his Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Just 33 percent of the country's 53 million voters turned out in a referendum on a charter drafted by Morsi's team, which was approved with 64 percent of the votes cast.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes since Morsi's ouster, and thousands have been arrested, including the top leadership of the Brotherhood.


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