CAIRO - Egypt's opposition said Sunday that it will keep up 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.
Opposition leaders were still pushing for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to cancel the Dec. 15 referendum, saying they reject the process and refuse to call it legitimate.
The referendum over 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. As a concession to his opponents, he rescinded decrees he issued last month granting him almost unrestricted powers, giving himself and the panel that drafted the constitution immunity from judicial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 that 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 on 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.