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Egyptian judges protest referendum

Say they won’t monitor vote on draft constitution

Nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, according to witnesses and the Egyptian media.MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS

CAIRO — In the latest challenge to President Mohammed Morsi, the main association of Egyptian judges announced Tuesday that 90 percent of its members will refuse to monitor the referendum set for Saturday on an Islamist-backed draft constitution.

The action is meant to protest the draft and the president's decree, since withdrawn, that temporarily set his decisions beyond the reach of judicial review.

Egyptian law requires judicial supervision of elections. Advisers to Morsi said that they had lined up enough willing judicial officials to proceed with the voting on Saturday. But the announcement by Ahmed Zend, chief of the Judges Club, may influence the debate among opponents over whether to campaign for votes against the draft constitution or boycott the referendum entirely.


In his remarks, Zend accused Morsi of repeatedly attacking the ''sacredness'' of the Egyptian judiciary.

"The head of the Judges Club does not betray the judiciary, and does not betray Egypt,'' Zend said, referring to himself.

Still, Zend has little influence over Morsi's Islamist supporters. He has been an outspoken critic of Morsi and his Islamist political allies, and was a loyalist of former President Hosni Mubarak; he was installed at the top of the Judges Club in a takeover after the group became part of a movement seeking judicial independence years ago.

Protests continued Tuesday outside the presidential palace in Cairo, and tensions mounted over reports that unidentified gunmen had fired birdshot at protesters in a tent camp in Tahrir Square, injuring nine people, a security official said. By Tuesday night, security officials had concluded that the birdshot was fired in a personal, nonpolitical dispute after an unidentified man was denied access to the sit-in, scuffled with protesters, and returned with friends armed with at least one shotgun.

New uncertainty over the country's economy added to the political turmoil. On Tuesday, Morsi's government postponed a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund that was intended to help Egypt avert financial collapse, saying that the delay would give Egyptian officials more time to discuss the related package of economic policy changes with the public, the country's finance minister told Reuters.


The monetary fund's board had been expected to approve the loan this month to prop up the economy, which has been battered by the near-evaporation of tourism and general slow growth since the revolution that unseated Mubarak nearly two years ago. But a huge public outcry against planned tax increases prompted Morsi to back away from them on Monday, and Finance Minister Mumtaz al-Said told Reuters on Tuesday that the government had asked to postpone the loan until the fund's board meets next in January.

The military-led transitional government that followed Mubarak drained the country's foreign exchange reserves, which were propping up the Egyptian pound, and economists say the aid package from the fund is essential to avoid a collapse of the currency and the soaring inflation and worsened unrest that might follow.

"Of course the delay will have some economic impact, but we are discussing necessary measures'' to address that issue until the loan can be completed, Said told Reuters.

Meanwhile, as the main opposition coalition prepared to formally announce its position on the referendum, there were hints of cracks in its unity.

On Sunday, the coalition seemed to favor a boycott, saying in a statement that it rejected ''lending legitimacy to a referendum that will definitely lead to more sedition and division.''


But in an interview broadcast Monday, the coalition's coordinator, Mohamed ElBaradei, said, ''We might go to the vote.'' And on Tuesday, Amr Moussa, a leading coalition figure and foreign minister under Mubarak, said that while the referendum should be canceled or postponed, if it is carried out anyway, ''I call on citizens to vote no.''

The April 6th Revolutionary Youth Group, which is not a member of the coalition but coordinates its activities with the National Salvation Front, began a campaign on Tuesday urging a no vote in the referendum under the slogan, ''Your Constitution does not represent us.''