Egypt's courts shut as Morsi under pressure to limit powers

Egypt's courts shut as Morsi under pressure to limit powers

Courts in several Egyptian cities, including Cairo, shut their doors Sunday in response to a strike called by the country's judges to protest a decree by President Mohammed Morsi granting himself sweeping new powers, DPA reported.

The Cairo Criminal Court announced it would postpone all cases not relating to national security to protest Morsi's move from earlier this week, in which he barred judicial review of his decrees, as well as any court review of an Islamist-controlled assembly drafting a new constitution.

The Supreme Judicial Council, the country's highest judicial authority, called on Morsi to only make his decree barring review apply to "acts of sovereignty" - those pertaining to foreign affairs and national security.

Under the highly controversial decree, Morsi has made all his decisions and laws since he took office in June immune to legal challenge, a step condemned by the opposition as undermining democracy.

The decree has sparked angry protests and attacks on offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which Morsi headed before becoming Egypt's first elected president.

The presidency said Sunday the constitutional declaration, signed by Morsi on Thursday, is temporary until a new constitution is approved. "This declaration is necessary to bring to justice officials from the former regime tainted by corruption," the presidency added in a statement, quoted by local media.

Initiating a bid to defuse the crisis, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki warned that the dispute between the president and the judiciary would "drive Egypt into an abyss," reported state television.

Morsi already holds legislative power after the country's highest court dissolved in June the lower house of parliament, where Islamists wielded a clear majority.

On the streets of Cairo, clashes between protesters and riot police continued for the seventh straight day just south of Tahrir Square.

Security forces used tear gas against the rock-hurling protesters, said witnesses.

Street battles broke out November 19, with a demonstration marking the anniversary of deadly protests against the country's interim military rulers last year.

Numbers swelled on Friday as thousands took to Tahrir to protest against Morsi's surprise decree.

Protesters are holding an open-ended strike in Tahrir, which was the focal point of 18-day demonstrations that eventually deposed Hosny Mubarak in February 2011.

Political groups opposing Morsi's decree plan a new mass protest in the square on Sunday.

The Muslim Brotherhood Sunday said it had changed the venue for a pro-Morsi rally, scheduled for Tuesday, from outside a presidential palace near Tahrir to a site near Cairo University on the other bank of the Nile.

"The group has decided to change the site of the million-strong demonstration to avoid any possible showdown with other protesters," Mahmoud Ghouzlan, the spokesman for the Brotherhood, told the state-run newspaper Al Ahram.

The political turmoil sent the Cairo Stock Exchange plummeting on its first day of trading since the constitutional decree was announced. Its main EGX30 index plunged by 9.5 per cent.

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