ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Thousands of Islamists clashed with their opponents on Friday in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, a day before the second leg of voting on a proposed Islamist-backed constitution that has polarized the nation.
Meanwhile, the country's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi made a last-minute move to tighten his grip on power by appointing 90 members to parliament's upper house, a body set to wield temporary lawmaking powers if the constitution is approved by referendum.
In Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, riot police swung batons and fired volleys of tear gas to separate stone-throwing Muslim Brotherhood members and ultraconservative Salafis on one side, and youthful protesters on the other. The clashes started when the two groups met just after Friday afternoon prayers at the city's main mosque near the coastal road.
Witnesses say youth set fire to four vehicles – two buses and two cars – belonging to Islamists, sending smoke through the upscale city center. The demonstrators, some of whom carried black Islamic battle flags, withdrew under a heavy cloud of tear gas some two hours after the clashes began. Fighting continued into dusk along the corniche, near the Medical School and famed Alexandria Library.
At least 42 people were treated for injuries, with some rushed to the hospital, a city health official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
It was unclear who started the fight. Islamists had called for a big rally outside the Qaed Ibrahim mosque, and some 20 liberal political parties had said they would not hold a rival gathering to avoid clashes.
The final round of voting on the disputed charter is to be completed today. Critics charge that the Islamist-dominated body that wrote the draft document did not represent all Egyptians. Liberal and Christian members quit the assembly to protest clauses and articles they say were rammed through by hardline members aiming to create a religious state.