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Egypt president defends constitutional referendum amidst criticism

[JURIST] Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; JURIST news archive] Saturday defended proposed constitutional amendments [JURIST report] - including those that will prohibit religious political parties and give the state sweeping power to prosecute terror-related offenses in special courts - as being necessary to shield Egypt from the dangers of religious sectarianism and terrorism. The referendum, slated for Monday, has been widely criticized by opposition parties, human rights groups, and foreign governments. Amnesty International [advocacy website] has condemned the amendments [press release], calling them the "greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years."

On Wednesday, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood [party website; JURIST news archive] announced it planned to boycott the referendum [JURIST report]. On Thursday, Egypt's four largest opposition parties announced similar boycott plans [JURIST report]. On Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit [official profile] brushed aside criticism [transcript] of the proposed changes by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [official profile], stating that "only the Egyptian people have the right to say their views on that referendum." Rice had characterized the pending referendum as a "disappointing outcome." Reuters has more.

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