Protesters have breached barricades outside Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s palace as both supporters and opponents of the president gather throughout Cairo for rival rallies over a disputed draft constitution.
The rallies come just before Saturday’s constitutional referendum.
Several hundred protesters using makeshift equipment pulled apart concrete and metal barricades, forcing back soldiers maintaining security, AFP reported.
The banners at the palace read "Game over Morsi" and "Morsi hold back your thugs," as well as "The people demand the end of the regime," Ahram Online reported. Some signs compared Morsi to a donkey and his supporters to sheep, the source said.
In preparation for planned opposition marches to the presidential palace, the compound has been surrounded with concrete blocks and ringed with tanks.
Earlier Tuesday protesters opposed to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had attempted to break through metal barriers protecting the presidential palace. The demonstrators were met head on by hundreds of soldiers in riot gear, who stood behind the barriers to create a security perimeter around Morsi’s residence.
At the same time, up to ten thousand of President Morsi’s supporters also gathered in front of Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo's Heliopolis, some four kilometers away from the presidential palace and a rallying spot for anti-Morsi protesters. Protesters cheering for the constitution blocked off one of the two roads near where the mosque is located.
In light of the protests, the Egyptian army has been given the power to arrest citizens – a move which has fueled further anger among the opposition.
In the coastal city of Alexandria, mass, rival protests have also taken place. In the city of Assiut in Northern Egypt, protesters staged two rival rallies.
With the number of protesters in the streets of Cairo growing, Egypt's military chief has called for a "national dialogue" to take place on Wednesday, to resolve crisis. The president has backed calls for talks by the military, Al Arabiya reports.
"The chief of the military and defense minister calls for a meeting for the sake of Egypt that will bring together national partners in the presence of the president of the republic," the statement said.
Egypt’s army chief said at the talks they will not touch upon politics or a referendum on a constitution.
“We will not speak about politics nor about the referendum. Tomorrow we will sit together as Egyptians,” said armed forces chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Demonstrators are angry at a recently drafted constitution, which they say ignores personal freedoms, disregards the rights of women and fails to properly represent all Egyptians.
The draft of a new national charter approved by the Muslim Brotherhood-led assembly late last month has spit the nation, provoking a new wave of violent protests. The president's opponents have been out in the streets of Cairo, with many staging a sit-in strike in Tahrir Square for nearly three weeks running. In response, Morsi's supporters also flooded the streets of the capital, which led to severe clashed between the rival factions.
At least six people died and hundreds were reported injured over the last several days. Anger on the streets began growing after President Morsi issued a decree granting himself near absolute powers on November 22. The move sparked fears he was ushering in a new era of totalitarian rule.
In an attempt to quell the violent protests, on Sunday Morsi annulled his decree following a ten hour meeting with the opposition.
The Egyptian opposition, formally represented by the National Salvation Front (NSF), considered annulling the decree a “relatively meaningless” move, vowing to escalate the ongoing standoff with the president.
Protesters have repeatedly demanded the constitutional referendum be canceled, but Morsi declined, insisting it go ahead as scheduled on December 15.
The NSF also rejected the constitutional referendum, saying it "lacks consensus."
On Tuesday the general assembly of the Judges Club declared it will not be supervising the referendum, deeming it null and void.