Protest over referendum forces Morsi out of palace

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EGYPT’s Islamist president quit his official palace residence in Cairo last night as police battled thousands of protesters outside.

Tear gas was fired at demonstrators angered by president Mohammed Morsi’s move to hold a referendum on a new constitution on 15 December. Some broke through a police cordon and gathered next to a perimeter wall.

Several thousand had gathered in what they called “last warning” protests against Mr Morsi, who infuriated opponents with a 22 November decree expanding his powers. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the crowd chanted.

“The president left the palace,” said a presidential source, who declined to be named.

Mr Morsi ignited a storm of unrest in his bid to prevent a judiciary still packed with appointees of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak from derailing a troubled political transition.

Riot police at the palace faced activists chanting “leave, leave” and holding Egyptian flags with “no to the constitution” written on them. Protesters had assembled near mosques in northern Cairo before marching on the palace.

“Our marches are against ­tyranny and the void constitutional decree and we won’t retract our position until our demands are met,” said Hussein Abdel Ghany, for an opposition coalition of liberal, leftist and other factions.

Despite the latest protests, there has been only a limited response to calls for a mass civil disobedience. A few hundred protesters gathered earlier near Mr Morsi’s house east of Cairo, chanting slogans against his decree and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he emerged to win a free election in June. Police closed the road to stop them from coming any closer.