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Egypt Unity Talks Postponed

by VOA News December 12, 2012

The Egyptian army says unity talks set for Wednesday between Islamist-backed President Mohamed Morsi and the country's secular opposition have been postponed. No new date was set.

Egypt's top general Abdel Fattah al-Sissi had tried to help resolve the country's political crisis by attempting to host the talks. The two political sides are sharply divided over a referendum on a draft constitution.

Morsi's Islamist backers widely support the proposed charter, while the opposition National Salvation Front - an umbrella of secularists, liberal and supporters of the former government - strongly oppose the document.

​​The National Salvation Front called on its supporters Wednesday to go to the polls and vote 'no' on the referendum. The Associated Press reports the opposition group said Wednesday it might boycott the vote instead if the state does not secure the polls or allow judges to oversee the vote.

​Egyptian state media say about 589,000 expatriates began voting on the referendum Wednesday at the country's embassies and consulates. In Egypt, voting begins Saturday and will take place on a second day December 22.

Many secular Egyptians fear the draft constitution will erode civil liberties because it boosts the role of Islamic law and makes no specific mention of women's rights.

​​A constituent assembly dominated by Islamists approved the document last month after liberal and Christian members walked out, complaining that their voices were being ignored.

Tens of thousands of people flooded central Cairo Tuesday to demonstrate for and against the referendum. Outside the presidential palace Tuesday, demonstrators pried open a metal gate and smashed concrete barriers. But by late evening, television footage showed calm had largely been restored.

The head of a powerful judge's union said Tuesday most of its members - many of them old regime loyalists - are refusing to oversee Saturday's referendum, which they claim is illegitimate. But other members of the judiciary have promised to step in, prompting analysts to predict the boycott will not stall the vote.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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