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Army abruptly postpones 'unity' talks in deeply polarized Egypt

Ali Haider / EPA

An Egyptian woman casts her vote during the referendum for the Egyptian new constitution at the Egyptian consulate in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday.

CAIRO -- Efforts to resolve Egypt's rapidly worsening political crisis suffered a blow on Wednesday when the army abruptly postponed "unity" talks that the opposition had minutes earlier said they would attend.

Confirmation that the secular, liberal opposition coalition would join the meeting after boycotting reconciliation talks hosted last week by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi had raised hopes of an end to street protests and deadly violence.

ANALYSIS: Egypt is rapidly approaching its own 'cliff'

The latest convulsion in Egypt's transition to democracy was brought on by a decree last month from Morsi in which he awarded himself sweeping powers to ram through a new constitution.

The constitution, to be voted on in a national referendum, is a necessary prelude to parliamentary elections due early next year.

Morsi's government forged ahead by starting voting in diplomatic missions abroad for expatriates on Wednesday. Hours after Egyptians began casting ballots overseas, the main opposition alliance called for a "No" vote rather than the boycott it had favored previously.

Opponents of Egypt President Morsi say he's betraying the revolution, but his supporters say he wants to guarantee human rights with a controversial referendum on a new constitution. NBC's John Ray went onto the streets of Cairo to hear from both sides of the deepening divide.

But the National Salvation Front's decision did not dispel the atmosphere of a nation in crisis, deeply polarized over the referendum.

The opposition still plans more protests and the country's judges are still on strike over Morsi's decree, which caused huge controversy and brought thousands of pro- and anti-government protesters onto the streets in the worst upheaval since the fall of Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago.

Sex mobs target Egypt's women

The unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. But the army has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the presidential palace, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades.

There are also growing concerns about the already flailing economy a day after Egypt requested a postponement of a $4.8 billion IMF loan. Morsi suspended a package of tax hikes that had been part of a program to reduce Egypt's huge budget deficit for fear the measure would add to political tensions. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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