* Islamists hold rally in Alexandria
* More than 30 hurt as rivals pelt each other with stones
* Second day of voting on constitution on Saturday
* Measure expected to pass after first-round "yes" vote
By Tamim Elyan
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Dec 21 Supporters of
President Mohamed Mursi and his opponents hurled rocks at each
other in Egypt's second city on the eve of a final vote on an
Islamist-influenced constitution that has divided the country.
Police fired tear gas to separate scores of opponents of the
constitution and thousands of Islamists who clashed in the rain
near a mosque in Alexandria on Friday. Health officials said 32
people were injured.
"God is great," Islamists chanted as the clashes began.
The Islamists had gathered in support of an Islamic vision
of Egypt's future a day before a second round of voting in a
referendum on the basic law. Opposition supporters had also
turned out as worshippers assembled for Friday prayers.
Mursi and his Islamist allies back the draft constitution as
a vital step in Egypt's transition to democracy almost two years
after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
The opposition says the draft, drawn up by an
Islamist-dominated assembly, is a recipe for deeper divisions
and more violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood called for the rally in Alexandria to
protest after a violent confrontation between Islamists and the
liberal, secular opposition last week ended with a Muslim
preacher besieged inside his mosque for 14 hours.
Rival factions had used clubs, knives and swords last week,
but this time police kept the feuding sides apart, although
witnesses saw several protesters and one police officer being
helped away. Some protesters had head wounds.
The run-up to the final round of voting on the new
constitution on Saturday has been marked by often violent
protests that have cost at least eight lives. The first round on
Dec. 15 produced a "yes" vote that is expected to be repeated in
the second round.
Lines of riot police cordoned off Alexandria's al-Qaid
Ibrahim mosque, scene of last week's violence. Islamists chanted
pro-Islamic slogans while a smaller group of opponents gathered
nearby, chanting against Mursi, propelled to power in a June
election by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Two city buses were set on fire outside Alexandria
University's medical faculty, sending up a big plume of black
smoke amid further sporadic street clashes.
"The people want the implementation of sharia," the Islamist
sympathizers shouted, in a show of support for Islamic law. "Our
souls and blood, we sacrifice to Islam," they shouted.
In one incident, an Islamist filming anti-Mursi protesters
was grabbed and roughed up. Islamists on the other side of a
security cordon pushed and shoved police trying to reach him.
The opposition, facing defeat in the referendum, has called
for a "no" vote against a document it says is too Islamist and
ignores the rights of women and minorities, including the 10
percent of Egyptians who are Christian.
Anti-Mursi protester Ali al-Banna, a 51-year-old
businessman, said: "We reject the constitution. Mursi's
legitimacy has collapsed and we will bring him down."
The first day of voting on Dec. 15 resulted in a 57 percent
majority in favour of the constitution. The second stage on
Saturday is expected to produce a similar result as it covers
regions seen as more conservative and likely to back Mursi.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition,
said a "no" vote meant taking a stand against attempts by the
Brotherhood to dominate Egypt.
The constitution must be in place before a parliamentary
election can be held. If it passes, the poll should be held
within two months.
Demonstrations erupted when Mursi awarded himself sweeping
powers on Nov. 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through
a drafting assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and
boycotted by many liberals.
The referendum is being held over two days because many of
the judges needed to oversee polling stayed away in protest. In
order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50
percent of those voting.