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Polls open in Egypt's constitution referendum

Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood chant pro-Mursi slogans during a rally in Rabaa El Adaw
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood chant pro-Mursi slogans during a rally in Rabaa El Adaw

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians voted on Saturday in a referendum on a new constitution shaped by Islamist allies of Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi and which his liberal rivals say deepens divisions in the nation.

Soldiers joined police outside polling stations to secure the vote after deadly protests. Demonstrations erupted last month after Mursi issued a decree expanding his powers and then fast-tracked the draft constitution through an assembly dominated by his Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

"The sheikhs told us to say 'yes' and I have read the constitution and I liked it," said Adel Imam, a 53-year-old queuing to vote in a Cairo suburb. "The president's authorities are less than before. He can't be a dictator."

A coalition of leftists, socialists, Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people, and more liberal-minded Muslims accuse Mursi of pushing through a document that does not reflect Egypt's diversity.

"I voted 'no' to the constitution out of patriotic duty. The constitution does not represent all Egyptians," said Michael Nour, a 45-year-old Christian school teacher in Alexandria, Egypt's second-biggest city.

Voters were allowed to cast "yes" or "no" ballots from 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) until 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), but the deadline could be extended depending on turnout.

The vote has been split into two rounds, each covering different regions with the second next week, because not enough judges agreed to oversee the ballot.

There were queues of several dozen people outside some polling stations in Cairo and elsewhere as voting began. The first round covers about 26 million of Egypt's 51 million eligible voters. The next round is on December 22.

(Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Paul Simao and Lisa Shumaker)

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