Opposition supporters broke through barricades around President Mohamed Mursi’s palace in Cairo on Friday climbing onto army tanks guarding the premises.
Opposition leaders earlier rejected Mr Morsi’s call for talks, putting their weight instead behind rallies which converged on the palace from all across Cairo attacking his plans for a constitutional referendum next weekend.
“The people want the downfall of the regime” and “Leave, leave,” they chanted, using slogans used in the uprising that toppled Mursi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Islamists, who had obeyed a military order for demonstrators to leave the palace environs, held funerals on Friday at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque for six Mursi partisans who were among the dead. “With our blood and souls, we sacrifice to Islam,” they chanted.
Mursi had offered few concessions in a speech late on Thursday, refusing to retract a November 22 decree in which he assumed sweeping powers or cancel a referendum next week on a constitution newly drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.
Instead, he called for a dialogue at his office on Saturday to chart a way forward for Egypt after the referendum, an idea that liberal, leftist and other opposition leaders rebuffed.
They have demanded that Mursi rescind the decree in which he temporarily shielded his decisions from judicial review and that he postpone the December 15 referendum before any talks begin.
A leader of the main opposition coalition said it would not join Mursi’s dialogue: “The National Salvation Front is not taking part in the dialogue,” said Ahmed Said, a leader of the coalition, who also heads the liberal Free Egyptians Party.
“After the bloodshed we will not put our hands in the hands of those who killed new martyrs,” declared Hamdeen Sabahi, another leading figure in the NSF.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the NSF’s chief co-ordinator and a Nobel laureate, called on opposition groups to shun dialogue with Morsi. We want “a dialogue not based on an arm-twisting policy and imposing fait accompli,” he said on Twitter. George Ishak, another opposition leader, said: “Whoever has killed his own people has lost legitimacy.”
Mursi’s decree giving himself extra powers sparked the worst political crisis since he took office in June and set off renewed unrest that is dimming Egypt’s hopes of stability and economic recovery after nearly two years of turmoil following the overthrow of Mubarak, a military-backed strongman.
The turmoil has exposed contrasting visions for Egypt, one held by Islamists, who were suppressed for decades by the army, and another by their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms.
Caught in the middle are many of Egypt’s 83 million people who are desperate for an end to political turbulence threatening their precarious livelihoods in an economy under severe strain.