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Top Egypt prosecutor general defies sacking by president

CAIRO -- Egypt's prosecutor general defied a presidential decision to remove him from his post, entering his office Saturday in a downtown Cairo courthouse flanked by security and hundreds of judicial officials.

President Mohammed Morsi had ordered Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud to step down in an apparent bid to appease public anger over the acquittals of ex-regime officials accused of orchestrating violence against protesters last year.

Morsi appears to have broad public support for removing Mahmoud, who was appointed under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. But the prosecutor and a powerful judges' club said this infringes on the judiciary's independence, as Egyptian law protects the judicial officials such as the prosecutor general from be fired by the president.

To overcome the constraints on removing him, Morsi's decision asked Mahmoud to become ambassador to the Vatican. But Mahmoud refused to be reappointed.

The move confronts Morsi with a dilemma: If he moves too aggressively against Mahmoud, it feeds into criticisms that he is exceeding the powers of his office. If he moves too slowly, it feeds into the accusation that he is failing to address the goals of the 2011 uprising that overthrew Mubarak. Many say a whole overhaul of the judiciary, not just removal of the prosecutor general, is needed to effect change in justice.

The standoff with the prosecutor general continued as Morsi faced a new challenge in the form of violent protests between his supporters and critics.

The judicial standoff formed the backdrop to rival rallies Friday in Tahrir Square that escalated into street fighting between his supporters and his critics, the first such confrontation since Morsi came to office in late June.

Pro-Morsi protesters held a rally in Tahrir Square to urge the removal of Mahmoud. But they clashed with anti-Morsi demonstrations planned before to denounce the lack of progress on economic issues and a hotly contested constitution still in a drafting process. Morsi's supporters say the constitutional drafting panel was set up by an elected parliament and broadly represents Egypt's political factions. Critics say the process is dominated by a majority made up of Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hails and more radical groups, when it should be determined by consensus.

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Egyptian Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud speaks to hundreds of supporters, judges, lawyers and media, not shown, in a downtown courthouse in Cairo, Saturday, Oct. 13. (AP)

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