Egyptian government warns against referendum protests

The Egyptian government has warned critics of the constitutional referendum scheduled for Monday not to stage any protests on the day, the Information Ministry said Wednesday.

In a statement published in Cairo, the ministry said security forces would ’not tolerate any attempts to disrupt the referendum and democratic life on that day.’

Parts of the Egyptian opposition have called for a boycott of the referendum, in which Egyptian citizens are due to vote on changes to 33 articles of their constitution.

Meanwhile, at Cairo University Wednesday, around 500 followers of the officially banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) protested against the planned reforms. Protestors were carrying a coffin labelled ’Egypt after the constitutional reform,’ and banners read: ’The reform opens the door to electoral fraud.’

The MB, which holds 88 seats in parliament, is the largest opposition party. But its members were elected to the assembly as ’independent’ candidates.

Critics of the reforms see the changes, which were drafted by President Hosny Mubarak and his National Democratic Party (NDP), as an attempt to ’finally turn (Egypt) into a police state.’

Citizens would no longer be protected from encroachments by the state, and opportunities for political participation would be limited further, according to critics.

Some 35 million Egyptians have been called to cast their vote on Monday at one of 30,000 polling stations. The referendum, which was originally scheduled for April, has been moved forward by Mubarak.

The US government on Tuesday also showed concern about the Egyptian reform process. A spokesman for the US State Department, Sean McCormack, said the planned changes ’left no doubt that the Egyptian government has reached the reform targets it has set for itself.’

However, it was questionable whether the Egyptian population would be able express its opinion through participation in political parties after the reform, the spokesman said.

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