Gunmen Wound 9 In Tahrir Square Protest Camp

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December 11, 2012 1:29 PM EST

Nine people were wounded when unknown attackers fired at protesters camping at Tahrir Square in Cairo Tuesday night, according to witnesses and Egyptian media, as opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi's plans to vote on a new constitution geared up for a day of street demonstrations.

Police cars surrounded the square, the first time they had appeared in the area since Nov. 23, the day after a decree by the president giving himself sweeping temporary powers touched off widespread protests.

The attackers also threw firebombs, which started a small fire, witnesses said. Many of the protesters, awakened by the noise, chanted: "The people want the downfall of the regime." Recorded recitations of the Quran were played over speakers in the square.

Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups have called for marches to the presidential palace in the afternoon to protest against the hastily arranged referendum on a new constitution planned for Saturday, which they say is polarizing the country.

Islamists, who dominated the body that drew up the constitution, have urged their followers to turn out "in millions" the same day in a show of support for the president and for a referendum they feel sure of winning and that critics say could put Egypt in a religious straitjacket.

Seven people were killed and hundreds wounded last week in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents besieging Morsi's graffiti-daubed presidential palace.

The elite Republican Guard has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the palace, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades, but a decree issued by Morsi Sunday night gives the armed forces the power to arrest civilians during the referendum and until the announcement of the results.

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