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Egypt's Morsi annuls orders giving him sweeping powers, but keeps Dec. 15 constitution vote

As protests continued, President Mohammed Morsi rescinded a controversial decree he issued weeks ago, assuming control of the judiciary. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

CAIRO -- Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Saturday issued a decree annulling the most controversial parts of earlier orders that granted him sweeping powers, including the ability to make laws and decisions not subject to judicial reviews.

The earlier orders had led to three weeks of violent clashes between Morsi supporters and the political opposition.

The president no longer has absolute powers, but his government's draft constitution will not be changed before a referendum set for Dec. 15, NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reported from Cairo.

The new declaration still calls for the referendum to go ahead as scheduled, but the new referendum will not be a simple "yes" or "no."

If the draft constitution is rejected, Morsi said he will ask the public to directly vote for a new 100-member constituent assembly to write a new constitution. The existing 100-member assembly was appointed by the dissolved parliament. 

The announcement that Morsi had scrapped his Nov. 22 decree followed hours of talks on Saturday at his presidential palace, billed as a "national dialogue" but which was boycotted by his main opponents and had little credibility among protesters.

One opposition group dismissed Morsi's efforts at appeasement as the "continuation of deception."

His opponents have demanded that Morsi scrap the vote on the constitution, which was fast-tracked through an assembly led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Liberals and others had walked out, saying their voices were not being heard.

The spokesman for the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, which stayed away from Saturday's talks, said his group would meet Sunday to discuss a response to Mursi's initiative to cancel his old decree.

But Hussein Abdel Ghani added: "My first personal impression is that it is a limited and insufficient step. We repeatedly said that among our top demands is for the referendum to be delayed."

PhotoBlog: Despite Morsi concessions, protests continue

Earlier Saturday, Egypt's military warned of "disastrous consequences" if the crisis that sent tens of thousands of protesters back into the streets was not resolved, signaling the army's return to an increasingly polarized and violent political scene.

The military said serious dialogue is the "best and only" way to overcome the nation's deepening conflict.

"Anything other than that (dialogue) will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something which we won't allow," said the statement, read by an unnamed military official on state television.

NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin and journalist Mona Eltahawy discuss developments around Egypt's crisis.

Egypt's once all-powerful military, which temporarily took over governing the country after the revolution that ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, has largely been sidelined since handing over power to Morsi weeks after his election.

But it has begun asserting itself again, with soldiers sealing off the presidential palace with tanks and barbed wire, as rival protests and street battles between Morsi's supporters and his opponents turned increasingly violent.

The statement said the military "realizes its national responsibility in protecting the nation's higher interests" and state institutions.

At least six civilians have been killed and several offices of the president's Muslim Brotherhood set on fire since the crisis began on Nov. 22. The two sides also have staged a number of sit-ins around state institutions, including the presidential palace where some of the most violent clashes occurred.

Images of the military's elite Republican Guards unit surrounding the area around the palace showed one of the most high-profile troop deployment since the army handed over power to Morsi on June 30.

Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi is feeling the pressure ever since his decree granting him nearly absolute powers. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Tensions have escalated since Morsi issued new decrees granting himself and an Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly immunity from oversight by the judiciary. The president's allies then rushed through a constitution and he announced a Dec. 15 nationwide referendum on the charter.

The president has insisted his decrees were meant to protect the country's transition to democracy from former regime figures trying to derail it.

The political turmoil has exposed deep rifts in the nation of 83 million between Islamists, who were suppressed for decades, and their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms. Many Egyptian just crave stability and economic recovery.

This article includes reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.

NBC's Ayman Moheldeen reports the latest from Egypt where thousands of protesters surged around the presidential palace; and Michael Rubin, Former Pentagon Adviser on Iran & Iraq, provides perspective.

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