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Egypt votes on constitution as violence highlights divide

CAIRO -- Egyptians queued to vote on a new constitution Tuesday amid high security, in a referendum likely to launch a presidential bid by the army chief who overthrew Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Polling at most stations got off to a smooth start, but four people were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and police in central and southern Egypt, security officials said.

The violence highlighted the government's precarious grip on the most populous Arab country, still reeling from the ouster of Morsi and a bloody crackdown on his Islamist supporters.

An Islamist coalition led by the former president's Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott and protests during the two days of voting.

A small bomb exploded without causing injuries outside a Cairo court shortly before polls opened in the morning, as hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police deployed to guard polling stations.

The interior ministry had pledged to confront attempts to disrupt voting.

Defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who overthrew Morsi in July, visited a polling station at a north Cairo school after voting began to survey the security preparations.

“Work hard. We need the referendum to be completely secured,” he told soldiers guarding the school.

The government hopes a large turnout in favor of the constitution will bolster its disputed authority, while Sisi will monitor it for an “indicator” of his popularity, an official close to the general said.

Interim president Adly Mansour entreated voters to cast their ballots.

“The people must prove to dark terrorism that they fear nothing,” he said after casting his ballot.

“The voting is not only for the constitution, but also for the road map, so the country can have an elected president and a parliament.”

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Leader of Egypt's Coptic Christians, Pope Tawadros II, center, casts his vote on a new constitution at a polling station in Cairo on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Egyptians were voting amid high security in a referendum likely to launch a presidential bid by the army chief who overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. (AFP)

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