* Early indications suggest measure will pass
* Constitution backed by 57 percent in first round vote
* Rights groups report some irregularities
By Yasmine Saleh and Edmund Blair
CAIRO, Dec 23 Early indications suggested
Egyptians approved an Islamist-drafted constitution in
Saturday's second-round referendum despite opposition criticism
of the measure as divisive.
As counting began, an official from the Muslim Brotherhood's
political party, which backs President Mohamed Mursi, said a
sample of a few hundred thousand votes had "yes" in the lead.
An official from the opposition National Salvation Front
said their early exit polls showed the constitution passing.
Last week's first round returned 57 percent in favour of the
constitution, according to unofficial data. The vote was split
over two days as many judges refused to supervise the ballot.
The referendum committee may not declare official results
for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals.
Islamist backers of Mursi say the constitution is vital to
move to democracy, nearly two years after an Arab Spring revolt
overthrew authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. It will provide
stability for a weak economy, they say.
But the opposition accuses Mursi of pushing through a text
that favours Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who
make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women.
"I'm voting 'no' because Egypt can't be ruled by one
faction," said Karim Nahas, 35, a stockbroker, heading to a
polling station in Giza, in greater Cairo.
At another polling station, some voters said they were more
interested in ending Egypt's long period of political
instability than in the Islamist aspects of the charter.
"We have to extend our hands to Mursi to help fix the
country," said Hisham Kamal, an accountant.
VICE PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION
Hours before polls closed, Vice President Mahmoud Mekky
announced his resignation. He said he wanted to quit last month
but stayed on to help Mursi tackle a crisis that blew up when
the Islamist leader assumed wide powers.
Mekky, a prominent judge who said he was uncomfortable in
politics, disclosed earlier he had not been informed of Mursi's
power grab. The timing of his resignation appeared linked to the
lack of a vice-presidential post under the draft constitution.
Rights groups reported alleged law violations during voting.
They said some polling stations opened late, that Islamists
illegally campaigned at some of them, and complained of voter
registration irregularities, including listing of a dead person.
The new basic law sets a limit of two four-year presidential
terms. It says sharia law principles remain the main source of
legislation but adds an article to explain this further. It also
says Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia - a source
of concern to Christians and other non-Muslims.
If the constitution passes, there will be parliamentary
elections in about two months.
After the first round of voting, the opposition said alleged
abuses meant the first stage of the referendum should be re-run.
But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its
investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on Dec.
15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million voters. About
25 million were eligible to vote in the second round.
If the charter is approved, the opposition says it is a
recipe for trouble since it will not have received sufficiently
broad backing and that it will not have been a fair vote.
"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal
Free Egyptians Party and a member of the National Salvation
Front, an opposition coalition formed after Mursi expanded his
powers on Nov. 22 and then pushed the constitution to a vote.
Protesters accused the president of acting like a pharaoh,
and he was forced to issue a second decree two weeks ago that
amended a provision putting his decisions above legal challenge.
Said cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting,
and said anger against Mursi was growing. "People are not going
to accept the way they are dealing with the situation."
At least eight people were killed in protests outside the
presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals
hurled stones at each other on Friday in Alexandria, the
second-biggest city. Two buses were torched.
Late on Saturday, Mursi announced the names of 90 new
members he had appointed to the upper house of parliament, state
media reported, and a presidential official said the list was
mainly liberals and other non-Islamists.
Mursi's main opponents from liberal, socialist and other
parties said they had refused to take any seats.
Two-thirds of the 270-member upper house were elected in a
vote early this year, with one third appointed by the president.
Mursi, elected in June, had not named them till now. Mursi's
Islamist party and its allies dominate the assembly.