U.N. chief Ban calls for peaceful Egyptian referendum

UNITED NATIONS Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:41pm EST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for the final stage of a referendum in Egypt on a new constitution to be carried out peacefully so the country can focus on building "a pyramid of democracy in the heart of the Arab world."

The run-up to the two-stage referendum vote on the Islamist-backed constitution, billed as a major impetus for Egypt's democratic transition, has been marked by often violent protests in which at least eight people have died.

The first day of voting last weekend resulted in a 57-percent vote in favor of the draft basic law, according to official media. The final stage on Saturday is expected to endorse that result as it covers parts of Egypt, particularly rural areas, even more sympathetic to the Islamist cause.

"I sincerely hope there should be no further violence and the protest must be carried out in a peaceful manner so people will be free to express their views. All parties must act to prevent the violence, respect human rights, and uphold their national laws," Ban told reporters in New York.

"My hope is for compromise on all side, so that Egypt can focus on its pressing social economic needs and build a pyramid of democracy in the heart of the Arab world," he said. "Egypt's transition is very important ... for the region as a whole."

Demonstrations erupted when Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi awarded himself extra powers on November 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.

The referendum has had to be held over two days because many of the judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest. In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of those voting.

If the constitution passes next weekend, national elections can take place early next year, something many hope will help end the turmoil that has gripped Egypt since a revolution toppled former President Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. Mursi was elected in June. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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