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Archive for December, 2012

C. African Republic neighbors to send help

December 29, 2012

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Central African Republic’s neighbors agreed on Friday to dispatch a contingent of soldiers to intervene in the troubled country, where a coalition of rebel groups is seeking to overthrow the president of nearly a decade.

Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States meeting in Gabon, though, did not specify how many troops they could contribute nor did they outline how quickly the military assistance would arrive.

President Francois Bozize had pleaded for international help Thursday as fears grew that the rebels would attack the capital of 600,000 next. Former colonial power France already has said that its forces in the country are there to protect French interests and not Bozize’s government.

“We are now thinking about the arrangements to make so that this mission can be deployed as quickly as possible, said Gabon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet. The announcement came as military officials in Central African Republic reported renewed fighting in the third largest city of Bambari, which fell under rebel control five days ago.

The military said it had taken country of the town, located about 385 kilometers (240 miles) from the capital, a claim that could not be immediately corroborated. The ongoing instability prompted the United States to evacuate about 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador, on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya, said U.S. officials who insisted on anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the operation.

The United States has special forces troops in the country who are assisting in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel leader of another rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. The U.S. special forces remain in the country, the U.S. military’s Africa Command said from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

The evacuation of the U.S. diplomats came in the wake of criticism of how the U.S. handled diplomatic security before and during the attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed in that attack.

French diplomats are staying despite a violent demonstration outside its embassy earlier this week. Dozens of protesters, angry about a lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke via phone with Bozize, asking him to take responsibility for the safety of French nationals and diplomatic missions in Central African Republic.

Bozize on Thursday urgently called on former colonial ruler France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching the capital. But French President Francois Hollande said France wants to protect its interests in Central African Republic and not Bozize’s government.

This landlocked nation of some 4.4 million people has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The current president himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion in this resource-rich yet deeply poor country.

Speaking to crowds in Bangui, a city of some 600,000, Bozize pleaded with foreign powers to do what they could. He pointed in particular to France. About 200 French soldiers are already in the country, providing technical support and helping to train the local army, according to the French defense ministry.

“France has the means to stop (the rebels) but unfortunately they have done nothing for us until now,” Bozize said. Bozize’s government earlier reached out to longtime ally Chad, which pledged to send 2,000 troops to bolster Central African Republic’s own forces.

The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn’t fully implemented. The rebel forces have seized at least 10 towns across the sparsely populated north of the country, and residents in the capital now fear the insurgents could attack at any time, despite assurances by rebel leaders that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking Bangui.

The rebels have claimed that their actions are justified in light of the “thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic.” Despite Central African Republic’s wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.

The rebels also are demanding that the government make payments to ex-combatants, suggesting that their motives may also be for personal financial gain. Paris is encouraging peace talks between the government and the rebels, with the French Foreign Ministry noting in a statement that negotiations are due to “begin shortly in Libreville (Gabon).” But it was not immediately clear if any dates have been set for those talks.

The U.N.’s most powerful body condemned the recent violence and expressed concern about the developments. “The members of the Security Council reiterate their demand that the armed groups immediately cease hostilities, withdraw from captured cities and cease any further advance towards the city of Bangui,” the statement said.

Goma reported from Libreville, Gabon. Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; and Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

Israel to build 942 more homes in east Jerusalem

December 25, 2012

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has advanced the process of building 942 more settler homes in east Jerusalem under a new fast-track plan to tighten its grip on the territory, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.

A government planning committee on Monday moved the project to the advanced stage of asking contractors to submit bids to build them, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday. Once a bid is awarded, construction can begin on the project in the Gilo area, though it can take months, if not longer, to reach that point.

An additional 300 units can be built after further planning, said attorney Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem construction who sees the building as an obstacle to peacemaking. About 40,000 Israelis live in Gilo.

“With God’s help, we will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which will remain united under Israeli sovereignty,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the campaign launch event of his Likud Party. “We will continue to strengthen the settlements.” Israeli elections are set for Jan. 22.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the new Israeli announcement was a “red line” that would block the chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which a Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel.

“The Palestinian Authority will take all the possible means available to respond to this,” said Abu Rdeneh. The statement was posted on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa. The newly-approved homes are among more than 5,000 new settler homes in east Jerusalem that Israel pressed ahead over the past week. Palestinians do not recognize Israel’s 1967 annexation of the territory and say any Israeli construction there undermines their claims to it. The international community has not recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a settlement construction push to punish the Palestinians after the United Nations recognized a de facto Palestinian state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip last month. Israel says the Palestinians can achieve a state only through negotiations with the Israeli government, and regards the U.N. bid as a maneuver to sidestep talks.

The Palestinians have said they hope the upgraded status will allow them to return to the negotiating table with a stronger hand. Talks stalled four years ago, primarily over settlement construction. The construction push in east Jerusalem has drawn international condemnation, as have plans to build thousands of more settler homes in the adjacent West Bank.

Israel captured both areas and Gaza in 1967. It withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, but blocks most access to the territory and retains control over the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Also Tuesday, the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas announced that Palestinian journalists there have been banned from working for Israeli media outlets.

The official statement from the Hamas Cabinet called Israeli outlets “hostile entity media institutions.” Israeli media have no permanent correspondents in the Gaza Strip, but Israeli TV channels and newspapers often employ local Palestinian journalists as stringers. The Gaza journalists do not generally identify themselves to others as working for Israeli outlets because of a taboo against cooperating with Israel.

Israel bans Israeli journalists from entering the Gaza Strip, saying their presence in Gaza would pose a risk to their security.

Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed to this report.

Macedonia approves budget amid violence

December 24, 2012

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s parliament approved the 2013 budget late Monday, amid clashes outside the building between rival groups of protesters that left 11 police officers and at least three opposition lawmakers injured, police and party officials said.

Lawmakers voted 65-4 in favor of the €2.7 billion ($3.6 billion) draft budget in the Christmas Eve vote, as riot police were need to separate pro- and anti-government protesters, who hurled rocks and eggs at each other. Three protesters were detained for questioning, police said.

Other deputies were absent for the vote in the 123-seat parliament. Reporters were also ordered to leave the building before the vote. The budget must be adopted by year-end. The Social Democrat-led opposition argued the conservative government was spending too much on grandiose monuments, as well as expensive cars and furniture for state officials. The opposition had demanded that spending be trimmed by more than €200 million ($264.5 million). In an emergency meeting Sunday, the government agreed to cut just €3 million ($4 million).

Social Democrat leader Branko Crvenkovski, a former president of Macedonia, announced his party would boycott parliamentary proceedings indefinitely. He urged his supporters to join a campaign of “civil disobedience” aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s conservatives.

Crvenkovski argued that the budget was wasteful at a time when many in the country are struggling to make ends meet. But in a televised address late Monday, Gruevski accused his opponents of staging a “violent attempt to overthrow democratic institutions and the legitimately elected government.”

He added: “The budget is just being used as a pretext for a battle by (Crvenkovski) for his own political survival.” The U.S. Embassy expressed “concern and disappointment” at the clashes in front of parliament and urged the country’s two main parties to try to ease tension.

“The peaceful expression of different opinions is the foundation of a strong and democratic nation, and the use of violence by any parties involved undermines that system and damages its ability to govern responsibly,” an embassy statement said.

“The United States urges the leaders of all political parties and their supporters to put an end to these confrontations without delay.”

Monti resigns as Italy heads to elections

December 21, 2012

MILAN (AP) — Mario Monti handed in his resignation to Italy’s president in Rome on Friday, bringing to a close his “difficult but fascinating” 13-month technical government and preparing the country for national elections.

With the short trip to the president’s office after bidding a farewell to foreign diplomats and then his Cabinet, Monti kept his pledge to step down as soon as Parliament approved a budget law. President Giorgio Napolitano, who tapped Monti in November 2011 to draft reforms to shield Italy from the continent’s debt crisis, asked Monti to stay on as head of a caretaker government until the national vote, expected in February.

Napolitano will meet with leaders of Italian parties Saturday morning before dissolving Parliament. The question facing Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy and with the second-largest debt as a proportion of GDP, is if the vote will mark a return to politics as usual, or if the government of technocrats succeeded in some measure in preparing the way to continue the path of reforms and sacrifices.

Monti is expected to announce Sunday whether he will run to head a political government — backed by a collection of small centrist parties and movements, and perhaps even Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi has been toying with a return to electoral politics — after first pulling support in Parliament for Monti’s government then inviting him to run under a conservative banner. The leader of the center-left, Pier Luigi Bersani, is among those critical of a Monti candidacy, saying that parties built around personalities “is not good for Italy.”

A survey by the Demopolis institute for La7 private TV aired on Friday showed that two-thirds of Italians believe the Monti government had succeeded in restoring credibility to Italy and more than half said it had made progress in the fight against tax evasion.

On the minus side, a huge majority of 80 percent, however, criticized his government’s restoration of a tax on primary residences. The survey polled 1,040 Italians. In what was his last official public act as premier, Monti told foreign diplomats in Rome Friday that his year-old technical government had rendered the country “more trustworthy.”

He called his tenure “difficult but fascinating.” “The work we did … has made the country more trustworthy, besides more competitive and attractive to foreign investors,” Monti told diplomats, who gave him a standing ovation. “I hope that it can continue this way also in the next legislative session.”

Monti cited structural reforms, such as measures to improve competition and liberalize services, as well as the recently approved anti-corruption law. Monti’s address to diplomats coincided with the lower house of Parliament’s final approval of the budget law, which the premier promised to see through before stepping down.

Monti took over as head of a technical government in November 2011 as Italy’s borrowing costs soared in a clear market vote of no-confidence in then-Premier Berlusconi’s ability to reform Italy’s economy.

Monti announced he would resign after Berlusconi’s parliamentary party withdrew its support for his government, accelerating national elections initially set for April and now expected in February. Earlier Friday, Monti quipped that the impending end of his technical government “was not the fault of the Mayan prophecy,” though it came to an end on the same day as the ancient Mayan calendar, which had prompted unfulfilled doomsday predictions.

Egypt’s Morsi: constitution dawn of new republic

December 26, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Islamist president proclaimed the country’s newly adopted constitution as the dawning of a “new republic” in a television address Wednesday, calling on the opposition to join a dialogue with him after a month of violent turmoil and focus on repairing a damaged economy.

Mohammed Morsi sought to present the Islamist-drafter charter as the turning of a historic page for Egypt, but his speech did little to ease the suspicions of those who fear he and his Muslim Brotherhood are entrenching their power. He offered no concrete gestures to an opposition that has so far rejected his dialogue and vowed to fight the constitution.

Instead, with a triumphalist tone, he presented the constitution, which was approved by nearly 64 percent of voters in a referendum that ended last weekend, as creating a democracy with balanced powers between branches of government and political freedoms.

“We don’t want to return to an era of one opinion and fake, manufactured majorities. The maturity and consciousness (of voters) heralds that Egypt has set on a path of democracy with no return,” Morsi said. “Regardless of the results, for the sake of building the nation, efforts must unite. There is no alternative to a dialogue that is now a necessity.”

The opposition says the constitution allows a dictatorship of the majority — which Islamists have won with repeated election victories the past two years. It says the charter’s provisions for greater implementation of Islamic law, or Shariah, would allow Islamists who hold the presidency and overwhelmingly dominate the temporary legislature to restrict civil rights and limit the freedoms of minorities and women.

Opponents also say the low turnout in the referendum, just under 33 percent, undermines the document’s legitimacy. The main opposition National Salvation Front said it would study Morsi’s speech to see if his call for dialogue is serious. But it dismissed a “national dialogue” body that he launched before the results emerged as “farcical and simply theater.” The dialogue is mainly between Morsi and other Islamists.

“The president is talking to himself,” said Hussein Abdel-Ghani, a leading figure in the Front told a press conference after Morsi’s speech. He said the opposition would only enter “real and effective” talks, suggesting Morsi was aiming to assuage the United States, which has called for compromise and talks, without offering real substance. The Front said it will continue to be in opposition to the current rulers who “seek to establish a repressive regime in the name of religion.”

Morsi’s prerecorded address was his first speech since Dec. 6 after laying low amid the turmoil leading up to the referendum. It came a day after official referendum results were announced, formally bringing into effect the first constitution since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Morsi’s main message: it is time to put aside differences and start “the epic battle for construction and production.” He said he had asked his Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to make changes to his Cabinet to meet the “needs of the coming period” and to introduce measure to facilitate investment. But he made no gesture of inviting the opposition to join the reshuffled government.

“As we set on a new phase moving from the first republic to the second republic, a republic that has this constitution as its strong base … I renew my pledge to respect the law and constitution,” Morsi said, repeating his oath of office based on the new charter.

The line signaled the formal end of the political system in place in Egypt since 1952, when a military coup pushed out the Western-backed king and Egypt was declared a republic. Morsi acknowledged the “respectable” proportion that voted against the constitution, but gave no nod to the concerns opponents have over the charter. Liberals and Christians withdrew from the assembly writing the document, complaining that the Islamist majority was railroading it through. Opponents worry about provisions giving Muslim clerics a say over legislation, subordinating many civil rights to Shariah and providing little protection for women’s rights.

Morsi declared the constitution Egypt’s first to be drafted and passed through a popularly approved process, saying it protects human dignity, enshrines moderation, protects freedoms and ensures rights to work, education and health.

His implicit message to those who complain that the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, is dominating government was that he could be trusted and that in the end, voters can remove them. “God only knows I make no decision except for God, and for the interest of the nation,” Morsi said. “As you know, I am not a lover of authority or someone who is keen to monopolize power. Power is with the people.”

He defended decrees he issued in November granting himself sweeping powers, which sparked a wave of protests. He said the decrees, since revoked, were necessary to swiftly push through the constitution to a referendum to end instability. The opposition had urged him to postpone the vote.

The administrator of a Facebook page seen as a major mobilizer for the uprising that forced out Mubarak dismissed Morsi’s speech, saying, “His words don’t match his deeds.” Abdel-Rahman Mansour, of the “We are All Khaled Said” page, said Morsi had violated earlier promises to respect processes and institutions and is now calling for a dialogue after rushing through a constitution that was highly disputed.

“You can’t talk about a second republic when it is based on a constitution that has no national consensus,” Mansour said. “He says he doesn’t want power but acts differently.” Under the new constitution, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, the traditionally toothless upper house, was granted temporary legislative powers and began its work on Wednesday. It will legislate until elections for a new lower house are held within two months. Morsi has had legislative powers for months since a court dissolved the law-making lower house of parliament.

Morsi filled out the Shura Council this week by appointing 90 members to bring it to its full 270 members, adding a few non-Islamist members to the body recommended by the national dialogue. But the main liberal and secular opposition groups rejected the appointments as “political bribery.”

The parliamentary affairs minister, Mohammed Mahsoub, told Wednesday’s session that the government will prepare new legislation for the Shura Council to discuss, including a law to regulate the upcoming parliamentary elections, anti-corruption laws, and laws to organize Egypt’s efforts to recover money from corrupt Mubarak-era officials.

Mahsoub said such bills can be ready as early as next week, when the council convenes again for its regular working session. Nasser Amin, the head of the Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, said that now the conflict has moved from dueling street protests between the regime and opposition to “a new phase of legal disputes over legislation and control of state institutions.”

“This is the most critical phase,” he said, “and the battle won’t be very clear to regular people.”

Syrian rebels make more gains in north

December 25, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels fully captured a northern town near the Turkish border on Tuesday after weeks of heavy fighting and attacked a regime air base in a neighboring province, activists said.

The air base is in Aleppo province, where opposition fighters have already captured three other large military bases in recent months. Rebels have also laid siege to the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, and launched an offensive on the police academy near the city.

With steady rebel gains across the north, President Bashar Assad’s regime is having increasing difficulty sending supplies by land to Aleppo province, especially after rebels cut a major thoroughfare from Damascus. It is just another sign that the opposition is consolidating its grip across large swathes of territory in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

In his traditional Christmas address, Pope Benedict XVI decried the slaughter of the “defenseless” in Syria, where anti-regime activists estimate more than 40,000 have died in fighting since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule began in March 2011.

In another blow to the regime, activists said that Mohammed Adnan Arabo, a member of Syria’s parliament has left the country and joined the opposition. Ahmad Ramadan, an executive council member of the opposition Syrian National Council group, and other activists said Arabo arrived in Turkey on Tuesday.

He said the regime’s hold on power is deteriorating and rebels are besieging military bases for weeks until they either take over or negotiate with local army commanders to surrender. He added that some regime forces are being diverted to the capital to fight there.

“The regime cannot protect its bases and also cannot send forces to support troops under siege,” he said. Over the weeks, rebels fighting to overthrow Assad have also been able to take the battles into the capital Damascus, Assad’s seat of power, where the southern neighborhoods are witnessing almost daily clashes between troops and rebels.

The big successes began in mid-November, when rebels captured Aleppo’s Regiment 46, a large military base, carting off tanks, armored vehicles and truck-loads of munitions. Three weeks later, they captured the Sheik Suleiman base near the provincial capital of Aleppo and days later they took an infantry base in the city.

Last week, they captured an army technical regiment near Damascus’ international airport but were pushed back in a counter attack. The army command said in a statement that the regiment’s commander was killed in the battle.

The rebels have also brought the battle to areas around Damascus international airport where some flights were cancelled earlier this month because of the intensity of the fighting. One of the biggest blows came in Damascus on Dec. 12 when a suicide attacker blew his vehicle outside the Interior Ministry, killing five and wounding many, including Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar. The government denied at first that al-Shaar had been wounded until it got out when he was brought last week to a Beirut hospital for treatment.

It was the second injury the minister suffered after being wounded in a July 17, bomb inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus that killed four top regime officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the defense minister.

The rebel takeover of Harem, a town of 20,000 in northern Idlib province, was the latest in a string of recent rebel successes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels captured Harem in the early hours of Tuesday. Mohammed Kanaan, an Idlib-based activist, said the last post to be taken was the historic citadel, which overlooked the town. The army had turned the citadel into a military post.

“Harem is fully liberated now,” Kanaan said via Skype. He added that as the rebels pounded army posts and checkpoints in Harem, the troops withdrew to the citadel that later fell in the hands of rebels.

Rami-Abdul-Rahman, who heads to Observatory, said nearly 30 soldiers and pro-government gunmen surrendered late Monday. He added that rebels set free all gunmen at the age of 16 or less and referred others to local tribunals.

“Harem was very important because it is one of the towns that was loyal to the regime,” Abdul-Rahman said by telephone about the town that is nearly a mile from the Turkish border. In Aleppo province, which neighbors Idlib, local activist Mohammed Saeed said rebels attacked the air base in the town of Mannagh near the Turkish border. He said it is one of four air bases in the province, adding that rebels also attacked the police academy near the city of Aleppo.

Regime forces have been using helicopters to carry supplies to besieged areas and to attack rebel positions. The regime has had increasing difficulty sending supplies by land to Aleppo province after rebels captured in October the strategic town Maaret al-Numan. The town is on the highway that links Damascus with Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a major battleground in the civil war since July.

“Airplanes and helicopters are the only way to send supplies since the Free Syrian Army controls the land,” Saeed said. He added that rebels are also laying a siege to Aleppo’s international airport known as Nairab and threatening to shoot down military or civilians planes using it.

In the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, opposition gunmen ambushed the head of military intelligence in the area and seriously wounded him. He later died of his wounds, the Observatory said. Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory reported violence in areas including the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, the southern area of Quneitra on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Height and the southern region of Daraa.

In Israel, top officials said they cannot corroborate Syrian activists’ claims that the regime has used chemical weapons against its citizens. Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio that Israel has “no confirmation or proof” the regime has employed such weapons in the civil war. He says Israel is “monitoring the situation with concern.”

Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad told Israel Radio that Syria was closely guarding its chemical weapons stockpiles. On Monday, the Observatory quoted activists in the central city of Homs as saying that six rebels died in two neighborhoods the day before after inhaling white smoke that came out of shells fired by government troops in the area. Amateur videos released by activists showed men in hospital beds suffering breathing problems as doctors placed oxygen masks over their faces.

Egypt’s draft charter gets ‘yes’ majority in vote

December 23, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Islamist-backed constitution received a “yes” majority in a final round of voting on a referendum that saw a low voter turnout, but the deep divisions it has opened up threaten to fuel continued turmoil.

Passage is a victory for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, but a costly one. The bruising battle over the past month stripped away hope that the long-awaited constitution would bring a national consensus on the path Egypt will take after shedding its autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.

Instead, Morsi disillusioned many non-Islamists who had once backed him and has become more reliant on his core support in the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Hard-liners in his camp are determined to implement provisions for stricter rule by Islamic law in the charter, which is likely to further fuel divisions.

Saturday’s voting in 17 of Egypt’s 27 provinces was the second and final round of the referendum. Preliminary results released early Sunday by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood showed that 71.4 percent of those who voted Saturday said “yes” after 95.5 percent of the ballots were counted. Only about eight million of the 25 million Egyptians eligible to vote — a turnout of about 30 percent — cast their ballots. The Brotherhood has accurately predicted election results in the past by tallying results provided by its representatives at polling centers.

In the first round of voting, about 56 percent said “yes” to the charter. The turnout then was about 32 percent. The results of the two rounds mean the referendum was approved by about 63 percent. Morsi’s liberal and secular opposition now faces the task of trying to organize the significant portion of the population angered by what it sees as attempts by Morsi and the Brotherhood to gain a lock on political power. The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, said it would now start rallying for elections for the lawmaking, lower house of parliament, expected early next year.

“We feel more empowered because of the referendum. We proved that at least we are half of society (that) doesn’t approve of all this. We will build on it,” the Front’s spokesman, Khaled Daoud, said. Still, he said, there was “no appetite” at the moment for further street protests.

The new constitution would come into effect once official results are announced, expected in several days. When they are, Morsi is expected to call for the election of parliament’s lawmaking, lower chamber no more than two months later.

In a sign of disarray in Morsi’s administration, his vice president and — possibly — the central bank governor resigned during Saturday’s voting. Vice President Mahmoud Mekki’s resignation had been expected since his post is eliminated under the new constitution. But its hasty submission even before the charter has been sealed and his own resignation statement suggested it was linked to Morsi’s policies.

“I have realized a while ago that the nature of politics don’t suit my professional background as a judge,” his resignation letter, read on state TV, said. Mekki said he had first submitted his resignation last month but events forced him to stay on.

The status of Central Bank Governor Farouq el-Oqdah was murkier. State TV first reported his resignation, then soon after reported the Cabinet denied he has stepped down in a possible sign of confusion. El-Oqdah, in his post since 2003, has reportedly been seeking to step down but the administration was trying to convince him to stay on.

The confusion over el-Oqdah’s status comes at a time when the government is eager to show some stability in the economy as the Egyptian pound has been sliding and a much-needed $4.8 billion loan from the IMF has been postponed.

Over the past month, seven of Morsi’s 17 top advisers and the one Christian among his top four aides resigned. Like Mekki, they said they had never been consulted in advance on any of the president’s moves, including his Nov. 22 decrees, since rescinded, that granted himself near absolute powers.

Those decrees sparked large street protests by hundreds of thousands around the country, bringing counter-rallies by Islamists. The turmoil was further fueled with a Constituent Assembly almost entirely made up of Islamists finalized the constitution draft in the dead of night amid a boycott by liberals and Christians. Rallies turned violent. Brotherhood offices were attacked, and Islamists attacked an opposition sit-in outside the presidential palace in Cairo leading to clashes that left 10 dead.

The turmoil opened up a vein of bitterness that the polarizing constitution will do little to close. Morsi opponents accused him of seeking to create a new Mubarak-style autocracy. The Brotherhood accused his rivals of being former Mubarak officials trying to topple an elected president and return to power. Islamists branded opponents “infidels” and vowed they will never accept anything but “God’s law” in Egypt.

Both rounds of voting saw claims by the opposition and rights groups of voting violations. On Saturday, they said violations ranged from polling stations opening late to Islamists seeking to influence voters to say “yes.” The official MENA news agency said at least two judges have been removed for coercing voters to cast “yes” ballots.

The opposition’s talk of now taking the contest to the parliamentary elections represented a shift in the conflict — an implicit gamble that the opposition can try to compete under rules that the Islamists have set. The Brotherhood’s electoral machine has been one of its strongest tools since Mubarak’s fall, while liberal and secular parties have been divided and failed to create a grassroots network.

In the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections last winter, the Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis won more than 70 percent of seats in the lower chamber, which was later dissolved by a court order. The opposition is now betting it can do better with the anger over Morsi’s performance so far.

The schism in a country that has for decades seen its institutions function behind a facade of stability was on display in Saturday’s lines of voters. In the village of Ikhsas in the Giza countryside south of Cairo, an elderly man who voted “no” screamed in the polling station that the charter is “a Brotherhood constitution.”

“We want a constitution in the interest of Egypt. We want a constitution that serves everyone, not just the Brotherhood. They can’t keep fooling the people,” Ali Hassan, a 68-year-old wearing traditional robes, said.

But others were drawn by the hope that a constitution would finally bring some stability after nearly two years of tumultuous transitional politics. There appeared to be a broad economic split, with many of the middle and upper classes rejecting the charter and the poor voting “yes” — though the division was not always clear-cut.

In Ikhsas, Hassan Kamel, a 49-year-old day worker, said “We the poor will pay the price” of a no vote. He dismissed the opposition leadership as elite and out of touch. “Show me an office for any of those parties that say no here in Ikhsas or south of Cairo. They are not connecting with people.”

In the industrial working class district of Shubra El-Kheima just north of Cairo, women argued while waiting in line over the draft charter. Samira Saad, a 55 year old housewife, said she wanted her five boys to find jobs.

“We want to get on with things and we want things to be better,” she said. Nahed Nessim, a Christian, questioned the integrity of the process. “There is a lot of corruption. My vote won’t count.” She was taken to task by Muslim women wearing the niqab, which blankets the entire body and leaves only the eyes visible and is worn by ultraconservative women.

“We have a president who fears God and memorizes His words. Why are we not giving him a chance until he stands on his feet?” said one of the women, Faiza Mehana, 48. The promise of stability even drew one Christian woman in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, to vote “yes” — a break with most Christians nationwide who oppose the draft. Hanaa Zaki said she wanted an end to Egypt’s deepening economic woes.

“I have a son who didn’t get paid for the past six months. We have been in this crisis for so long and we are fed up,” said Zaki, waiting in line along with bearded Muslim men and Muslim women wearing headscarves in Fayoum, a province that is home to both a large Christian community and a strong Islamist movement.

The scene In Giza’s upscale Mohandiseen neighborhood was starkly different. A group of 12 women speaking to each other in a mix of French, Arabic and English said they were all voting “no.” “It’s not about Christian versus Muslim, it is Muslim Brotherhood versus everyone else,” said one of them, Shahira Sadeq, a Christian physician.

Kamla el-Tantawi, 65, said she was voting “against what I’m seeing” — and she gestured at a woman nearby wearing the niqab. “I lose sleep thinking about my grandchildren and their future. They never saw the beautiful Egypt we did,” she said, harkening back to a time decades ago when few women even wore headscarves covering their hair, much less the black niqab.

Many voters were under no illusions the turmoil would end. “I don’t trust the Brotherhood anymore and I don’t trust the opposition either. We are forgotten, the most miserable and the first to suffer,” said Azouz Ayesh, sitting with his neighbors as their cattle grazed in a nearby field in the Fayoum countryside.

He said a “yes” would bring stability and a “no” would mean no stability. But, he added, “I will vote against this constitution.”

Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Fayoum, Egypt, and Aya Batrawy, in Cairo, contributed to this report.

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