(Corrects Mursi's title to president in paragraph 1)
* National dialogue spurned by main opposition leaders
* Deputy says president could delay constitution vote
* Opposition demand end to Mursi's expanded powers
* Protesters surge around presidential palace
By Edmund Blair and Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, Dec 8 President Mohamed Mursi was
expected to press ahead on Saturday with talks on ways to end
Egypt's worst crisis since he took office even though the
country's main opposition leaders have vowed to stay away.
Cairo and other cities have been rocked by violent protests
since Nov. 22, when Mursi promulgated a decree awarding himself
sweeping powers that put him above the law.
The upheaval in the most populous Arab nation, following the
fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, worries the West, in particular
the United States, which has given it billions of dollars in
military and other aid since Egypt made peace with Israel in
Mursi's deputy raised the possibility that a referendum set
for Dec. 15 on a new constitution opposed by liberals might be
delayed. But the concession only goes part-way towards meeting
the demands of the opposition, who also want Mursi to scrap the
decree awarding himself wide powers.
On Friday, large crowds of protesters surged around the
presidential palace, breaking through barbed wire barricades and
climbing on tanks guarding the seat of Egypt's first freely
elected president, who took office in June.
As the night wore on, tens of thousands of opposition
supporters were still at the palace, waving flags and urging
Mursi to "Leave, leave".
"AS LONG AS IT TAKES"
"We will stay here for as long as it takes and will continue
to organise protests elsewhere until President Mursi cancels his
constitutional decree and postpones the referendum," said
Ahmed Essam, 28, a computer engineer and a member of the liberal
Vice President Mahmoud Mekky issued a statement saying the
president was prepared to postpone the referendum if that could
be done without legal challenge.
Mursi's planned dialogue meeting was expected to go ahead on
Saturday in the absence of most opposition factions. "Everything
will be on the table," a presidential source said.
Mursi could be joined by some senior judiciary figures and
politicians such as Ayman Nour, one of the candidates in
Mubarak's only multi-candidate presidential race, in 2005, in
which he was unsurprisingly trounced.
The opposition has demanded that Mursi rescind the decree
giving himself wide powers and delay the vote set for Dec. 15 on
a constitution drafted by an Islamist-led assembly which they
say fails to meet the aspirations of all Egyptians.
EXPAT VOTE DELAYED
The state news agency reported that the election committee
had postponed the start of voting for Egyptians abroad until
Wednesday, instead of Saturday as planned. It did not say
whether this would affect the timing of voting within Egypt.
Ahmed Said, leader of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, told
Reuters that delaying expatriate voting was intended to seem
like a concession but would not change the opposition's stance.
The opposition organised marches converging on the palace
which Republican Guard units had ringed with tanks and barbed
wire on Thursday after violence between supporters and opponents
of Mursi killed seven people and wounded 350.
Islamists, who had obeyed a military order for demonstrators
to leave the palace environs, held funerals on Friday at Cairo's
al-Azhar mosque for six Mursi partisans who were among the dead.
"With our blood and souls, we sacrifice to Islam," they
A group led by leftist opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy has
called for an open-ended protest at the palace.
Some pro-Mursi demonstrators gathered in a mosque not far
from the palace, but said they would not march towards the
palace to avoid a repeat of the violence that took place on
In a speech late on Thursday, Mursi had refused to retract
his decree or cancel the referendum on the constitution, but
offered talks on the way forward after the referendum.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition,
said it would not join the dialogue. The Front's coordinator,
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace laureate, dismissed the offer
as "arm-twisting and imposition of a fait accompli".
ElBaradei said that if Mursi were to scrap the decree with
which he awarded himself extra powers and postpone the
referendum "he will unite the national forces".
Murad Ali, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom
and Justice Party, said opposition reactions were sad: "What
exit to this crisis do they have other than dialogue?" he asked.
(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Giles Elgood;
Editing by Michael Roddy and Paul Tait)