CAIRO Egypts opposition said Sunday it will continue protests against a referendum on a disputed draft constitution but stopped short of advocating either a boycott or a no vote less than a week before the ballot.
The opposition was still pushing for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to cancel Saturdays referendum, saying they reject the process entirely and refuse to call it legitimate.
The referendum about a disputed draft constitution has deeply polarized Egypt and sparked some of the bloodiest clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents since he came to power in June.
In a sign of how jittery the government is about holding the referendum, Morsi has ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions until the results of the referendum are announced.
The new presidential decree, published in the official gazette, would be effective starting Monday. The military is asked to coordinate with the police on maintaining security and would also be entitled to arrest civilians.
Morsi insists on holding the referendum on schedule. Instead, as a concession to his opponents, he rescinded decrees he issued last month granting him almost unrestricted powers, giving himself and the panel that drafted the constitution immunity from judicial oversight.
The decrees sparked the protests. Opponents said they were issued initially to protect the disputed constitution from numerous court challenges.
Rushing the approval of the constitution in a late-night session in the panel further inflamed those who claim Morsi and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are monopolizing power and trying to force their agenda into practice.
The opposition sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets, in unprecedented mass rallies for the largely secular groups since they led the popular uprising last year that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
This prompted protests by Morsi supporters and sparked bouts of street battles that left at least six people dead and hundreds wounded.
Several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood also have been ransacked or torched in the unrest.
The National Salvation Front, an umbrella opposition group of liberal and leftist parties, said at a news conference Sunday that holding the referendum in such an atmosphere would lead to more strife. It called for another mass demonstration Tuesday.
The front said Morsi and the regime are gambling by driving the country toward more violent clashes that are dangerous for its national security.
In a sign of the continued tension, Misr 25 TV, affiliated with the Brotherhood, announced that an alliance of Islamist groups will hold rival rallies on Tuesday in support of legitimacy.
Senior Brotherhood leaders accuse the opposition of seeking to topple Morsi and undermine his legitimacy.
The draft charter was adopted despite a last-minute walkout by liberal and Christian members of the Constituent Assembly. The document would open the door to Egypts most extensive implementation of Islamic law or Shariah, enshrining a say for Muslim clerics in legislation, making civil rights subordinate to Shariah and broadly allowing the state to protect ethics and morals.
It fails to outlaw gender discrimination and mainly refers to women in relation to home and family. The charter also has restrictive clauses on freedom of expression.