Egypt referendum dispute triggers protest call

Opposition calls for mass protests over alleged polling violations after Islamists backing president Mohammed Morsi claim victory in constitution referendum.

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CAIRO // Egypt's opposition is calling for mass protests today over alleged polling violations after Islamists backing president Mohammed Morsi claimed victory in the first round of a referendum on a new charter.

The opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, urged Egyptians to "take to the streets ... to defend their freedoms, prevent fraud and reject the draft constitution" ahead of the next round of voting on Saturday.

It claimed "irregularities and violations" marred the initial stage of the referendum last weekend across half of Egypt that Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood said resulted in a 57 per cent "yes" vote, according to its unofficial tally.

The official count will be announced only after the other half of the country goes to the polls in the second round.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the opposition coalition's coordinator and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, renewed his call for Mr Morsi to cancel the referendum and enter talks with the opposition. "Last chance: cancel the ill-reputed referendum and begin a dialogue to close the rift, and [appoint] a capable government that can administer, and bring back the state of law," he wrote on Twitter.

A spokesman for Mr ElBaradei's group said the comment was not a call to boycott the second round.

Large protests both for and against the proposed constitution have been staged over the past three weeks. Early this month, eight people died and more than 600 were hurt when rival protesters fought outside the presidential palace in Cairo, prompting the army to deploy troops to protect it.

The opposition says the proposed constitution would weaken human rights - especially those of women - while strengthening the hand of the military.

Mr Morsi argues that the majority he won in June elections gives him a mandate for change and that the draft constitution is a key step to securing stability.