CAIRO - Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi battled late Wednesday in Cairo with rocks and firebombs, as three key presidential advisors quit to protest the president's handling of the country's constitutional crisis.
Reporting from the scene, VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott said the new violence erupted when Morsi's Islamist supporters attacked demonstrators protesting what they describe as a presidential power grab.
"I've seen Molotov cocktails, people armed with iron bars and rocks, some people even pulling branches off of trees in terms of trying to find some kind of weapon to fight with, the crowds pushing back and forth and there are reports of live ammunition being used and again, unconfirmed reports of casualties, of fatalities among the people who are fighting," she said.
Arrott said most of the presidential supporters are men with beards typical of members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, while opponents of the president appeared younger and had some women present.
As clashes continued late Wednesday, there were reports of Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacking journalists outside the presidential palace. Separately, three more presidential advisors announced their resignations to protest the decrees granting Mr. Morsi expanded powers. Five of the president's 17 advisors have quit since November 22.
Opposition protesters want Morsi to abolish a decree he issued last month granting himself sweeping powers that place him above review by the judiciary. Many also oppose a new draft constitution drawn up by a mainly Islamist committee. The draft is set for a December 15 referendum.
Clinton urges talks
Earlier in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the rival sides to hold a dialogue with each other, rather than try to impose their views on each other.
“The upheaval that we are seeing now, once again, in the streets of Cairo and of other cities indicates that dialogue is urgently needed, and it needs to be a two-way dialogue, not one side talking at another side," she said.
Clinton also urged Egypt's new leadership to work to craft a new constitution via a “process that is open, transparent and fair” and doesn't “favor one group over any other.”
Egyptian Vice President Mahmoud Mekki told a news conference that it is possible to reach a compromise over a number of contentious points in the draft constitution, but that the referendum to approve the document would go ahead as planned later this month.
Mekki said that 10 or 12 clauses at most are under dispute and that it could be possible to work out a compromise over them in the days leading up to the vote. He said the president granted himself extraordinary powers to address the “critical situation through which the country is passing,” saying that it was a response to “calls by the people for stability.”
On Tuesday, Egyptian riot police fired tear gas outside the presidential palace, where tens of thousands of protesters had gathered while Morsi was inside conducting business.
Police tried to stop the crowd from storming the palace but soon retreated and let the marchers through a barrier and up to the palace walls. Egyptian officials say president left the palace during the march.
Many of the marchers chanted the same anti-government slogans used in the uprising that toppled former authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak.