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Egypt referendum: Authorities hail high turnout

17 January 2014, 10:04

Cairo - Egypt's military-installed authorities have hailed a "high turnout" in a constitutional referendum as a sign of strong approval of the army's ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Initial tallies reported by state media on Thursday suggested more than 90% of voters approved the new constitution in the two-day referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a 39% turn out in most provinces.

The official results are expected on Saturday.

Given a boycott by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the result of the referendum has never been in doubt, but the military-installed government was hoping for a large turnout to bolster its democratic credentials after the overthrow of Morsi in July.

The government said it was aiming for a larger turnout than the 33% of 53 million registered voters who approved a constitution under Morsi in 2012.

Analysts say a turnout higher than that will decide the future of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who toppled Morsi following mass protests against his one-year rule, was also monitoring the vote for a sign of support as he mulls running for the presidency, officials said.

It was the first vote since Morsi's ouster, and authorities say the new constitution provides greater protection for freedom of speech and women's rights than the one adopted under him.

Egypt's presidency hailed on Thursday a "high turnout", although it gave no figures.

Beautiful day for Egypt

The president's spokesperson Ehab Badawy "remarked, on the high turnout in the referendum, that it was a beautiful day for Egypt and democracy", a statement said.

The government said the vote showed support for Morsi's overthrow.

"This was also a referendum on June 30," said government spokesperson Hany Salah, referring to the day when millions of protesters took to the streets demanding Morsi's resignation.

A coalition led by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which has organised near daily rallies against his overthrow, claimed the referendum was a "farce" and pledged further protests.

"We will continue the days of rage," the Anti-Coup Alliance said in a statement.

A student was killed on Thursday in clashes between pro-Morsi students and opponents inside Cairo University campus, the interior ministry said.

The US administration is closely watching the results of Egypt's referendum, but has not yet decided whether to unfreeze some $1.5bn in aid to its military-installed leaders, a US official said on Thursday.

Washington suspended its aid - most of which is military funding - to Cairo in October, angered that, since the army's overthrow of president Morsi, there had been little indication of a return to democracy.

"There are a range of factors we look to," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington, saying merely holding the constitutional referendum this week was not enough.

Islamists on the back foot

The referendum has put the Islamists on the back foot, and gives the Egyptian government even less incentive to negotiate with Morsi's movement, already designated as a terrorist group battered by a bloody crackdown.

"We are definitely moving forward, whether they want to or not," Salah told AFP, referring to the Brotherhood. "We believe they live in a virtual world."

The Muslim Brotherhood had hoped a low turnout would send a message of discontent over Morsi's overthrow and the crackdown on his supporters.

On Tuesday, clashes between Morsi supporters and their opponents and police killed at least nine people and at least 444 people were arrested for protesting and disrupting polling, officials said.

The Brotherhood dominated every poll since the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

But the movement, accused of trying to monopolise power, quickly alienated many Egyptians after Morsi took office.

The new constitution has done away with much of the Islamist-inspired wording of Morsi's charter. It bolsters the military's powers and allows it to try civilians for attacks on the armed forces.

Interim president Adly Mansour's government has pledged that the referendum will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Brotherhood, much of whose leadership was jailed after Morsi's overthrow, is likely to boycott the elections.



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