Each side accused the other of stoking the violence outside the palace, which health officials said left more than 120 people injured. At least five have been killed in the unrest, Egyptian state television said.
Clashes also broke out Wednesday night near the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is closely allied with Morsi, and in several other major northern cities. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil called on both sides to restore calm.
The opposition is demanding that Morsi rescind a Nov. 22 decree that granted him sweeping powers to legislate without oversight and that he abandon a contentious draft constitution that he has pushed toward a national referendum next week. A disparate group of opposition leaders vowed Wednesday to widen their protest until Morsi backs down.
But Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said the protesters would not derail the referendum. “No political faction can think that they alone monopolize the opinion and have the majority,” he said at a Wednesday news conference. “The judge is the ballot box.”
The United States has refused to criticize Morsi publicly since the crisis began. But U.S. officials said Wednesday that they are working behind the scenes to persuade his government to meet with opposition forces to discuss the draft constitution, which critics say does not protect the rights of women, minorities or the press.
“We call on all stakeholders in Egypt to settle their differences through democratic dialogue, and we call on Egypt’s leaders to ensure that the outcome protects the democratic promise of the revolution for all of Egypt’s citizens,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
Pressure on the military
But the more violent the situation becomes, and the more divided the country, the more the pressure will grow on the military — which currently enjoys a good relationship with Morsi — to take sides, said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
The army has traditionally enjoyed wide popular support in Egyptian society and, for a time, was seen as siding with protesters during the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But that support faded during a tumultuous 18-month transition period, when Egypt’s top generals ran the country and were accused by rights groups of using violence to quell protests and sending thousands of civilians before military tribunals.