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                                        Volume. 12116

Egyptian clerics warn of civil war, call for calm
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Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi take part in a demonstration at Raba'a Al-Adaweya Square in Cairo, June 28, 2013.
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi take part in a demonstration at Raba'a Al-Adaweya Square in Cairo, June 28, 2013.
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's leading religious authority warned of "civil war" on Friday and called for calm after a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood was killed ahead of mass rallies aimed at forcing the president to quit.
 
"Vigilance is required to ensure we do not slide into civil war," the Al-Azhar clerical institution said in a statement reported by state media. It blamed "criminal gangs" who attacked mosques for street violence. Clashes linked to the political tensions have killed five and wounded scores in recent days.
 
The Brotherhood said all those killed were Morsi supporters, though this could not be independently verified.
 
The ancient Cairo academy, which traditionally maintains a distance from the political establishment, also urged opponents of President Mohamed Morsi to accept his offer of dialogue rather than pressing on with plans for demonstrations.
 
Welcoming an offer by Morsi on Wednesday to include the fragmented opposition in committees to review the constitution and promote national reconciliation, senior Al-Azhar scholar Hassan El-Shafei said they should accept "for the benefit of the nation instead of the insistence on confrontation".
 
Opposition leaders dismissed Morsi's offer as a repeat of suggestions they say have gone nowhere because the Brotherhood refuses to dilute its power.
 
Their supporters will gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square, site of the 2011 revolution, and in other cities on Friday and plan mass rallies on Sunday, when Morsi will complete his first year in office. The Brotherhood will gather supporters after Friday prayers near a mosque in northern Cairo to show their strength.
 
The movement said one of its members was shot dead and four wounded in an attack on a provincial party office in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig overnight and blamed anti-Morsi activists, which it portrays as an alliance of liberals and loyalists of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.
 
The army has urged both sides to reconcile and has warned that it could step back in to impose order if violence spins out of control - though it insists it will defend the democracy born out of the uprising against Mubarak in early 2011.
 
Morsi and the Brotherhood accuse loyalists of the old regime of being behind violence and of thwarting their efforts to reform an economy hobbled by corruption. Opponents accuse the Islamists, who have won a series of elections against a diffuse opposition, of seeking to entrench their power and impose Islam.
 
In a speech on Wednesday, Morsi denounced his critics but admitted some mistakes and offered talks to ease polarization in politics that he said threatened Egypt's new democratic system.
 
But opposition leaders said their protests would go ahead.
 
"Dr. Mohamed Morsi's speech of yesterday only made us more determined in our call for an early presidential vote in order to achieve the goals of the revolution," the liberal opposition coalition said after its leaders met to consider a response.
 
"We are confident the Egyptian masses will go out in their millions in Egypt's squares and streets on June 30 to confirm their will to get the January 25 revolution back on track."
 
With the start of Egypt's weekend, people began to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square, site of the uprising of January 25, 2011, and at venues in other towns. The atmosphere was largely festive but there were widespread fears of trouble in the days ahead.
 
It is hard to gauge how many may turn out but much of the population, even those sympathetic to Islamic ideas, are deeply frustrated by economic slump and many blame the government.
 
Previous protest movements since the fall of Mubarak have failed to gather momentum, however, among a population anxious for stability and fearful of further economic hardship.
 
The army, which helped protesters topple Mubarak and is on alert across the country guarding key locations, says it will act if politicians cannot reach consensus. 
 
In his speech, Morsi threatened legal action against several named prominent figures. He said some judges and civil servants were obstructing him, and accused liberal media owners of bias.
 
Hours after he publicly accused one TV channel owner of tax evasion, the businessman, Mohamed al-Amin, found he was under investigation and barred from leaving the country.

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