Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi has appeared before supporters in Cairo to defend a new decree that grants him sweeping powers.
Mohammed Mursi told them he was leading Egypt on a path to “freedom and democracy” and was the guardian of stability.
He was speaking as thousands of opponents gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and offices of the president’s party were attacked in several cities.
The decree says presidential decisions cannot be revoked by any authority.
Speaking at a rally at the presidential palace in Cairo, Mohammed Mursi said he was working to secure a strong and stable nation, for which there was a “great future”.
He said: “I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son of Egypt.”
Mohammed Mursi said he was the guardian of political, economic and social stability and wanted to see a “genuine opposition, a strong opposition”.
“I am the guarantor of that and I will protect for my brothers in the opposition all their rights so they can exercise their role.”
Mohammed Mursi also vowed to defend the independence of the executive, judiciary and legislature and not issue decrees to settle scores.
But across the capital in Tahrir Square, thousands of the president’s opponents heeded calls to demonstrate against the decree.
Chants of “Mursi is Mubarak… revolution everywhere” rang out.
There were clashes between protesters and police in the square, with tear gas fired at demonstrators and Molotov cocktails thrown in return.
Mohammed Mursi has appeared before supporters in Cairo to defend a new decree that grants him sweeping powers
According to Egypt’s state-run news agency, Mena, three people were injured in violence in Cairo’s central Mohammed Mahmoud street.
Offices of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood party have reportedly been attacked in the cities of Port Said and Ismailia.
Clashes between rival demonstrations took place in Alexandria.
Protesters in the Mediterranean city stormed the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, throwing out books and chairs, and starting a fire.
Up to 2,000 demonstrators stormed the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Suez, while hundreds of people also protested against the new decree in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a joint news conference on Thursday, Sameh Ashour, head of a lawyers association, and key opposition figures Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa accused Mohammed Mursi of “monopolizing all three branches of government” and overseeing “the total execution of the independence of the judiciary”.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote on his Twitter account that the president had “appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences”.
US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday that the decree had “raised concerns” in the international community, because Egypt’s revolution “was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution”.
She said the US wanted “democratic dialogue” within Egypt to solve constitutional issues.
The new decree bans challenges to Mohammed Mursi’s laws and decisions, and says no court can dissolve the constituent assembly, which is drawing up a new constitution.
It also opens the way for a retrial of people convicted of killings during Egypt’s 2011 uprising which toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
The declaration also gives the 100-member constituent assembly two additional months to draft a new constitution, to replace the one suspended after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.
The rewrite of the constitution, which was meant to be finished by December, has been plagued by lawsuits questioning the make-up of the constituent assembly.
Once completed, the document is due to be put to a referendum. If it is approved, legislative elections will be held two months later.
Egyptians are voting for the second day in the country’s first free presidential elections – 15 months after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Queues are being reported at some polling stations.
The election pits Islamists against secularists, and revolutionaries against Mubarak-era ministers. In all, 13 candidates are running.
The military council which assumed presidential power in February 2011 has promised a fair vote and civilian rule.
On Wednesday, there were large queues in many places, and voting passed off calmly for the most part.
However, protesters in Cairo threw shoes and stones at a convoy of candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister.
There were also reports that a group of female voters has been denied access to a polling station in the capital because they were wearing a full face veil.
The US hailed the election, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland describing it as a “very important milestone” in Egypt’s transition to democracy.
Fifty million people are eligible to vote, and preliminary results are expected over the weekend.
Egyptians are voting for the second day in the country's first free presidential elections
The frontrunners are:
• Ahmed Shafiq, a former commander of the air force and briefly prime minister during February 2011 protests
• Amr Moussa, who has served as foreign minister and head of the Arab League
• Mohammed Mursi, who heads Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party
• Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent Islamist candidate
Until a new constitution is approved it is unclear what powers the president will have, prompting fears of friction with a military which seems determined to retain its powerful position.
Voting across the country resumed at 08:00 local time. The authorities have declared Thursday a holiday, partly to allow public sector employees time to cast their ballots.
Some Egyptians may have been waiting for a second day of voting to avoid crowds.
On Wednesday, voting was extended by an hour to 21:00 to cater for queues at a number of polling stations.
NGOs and rights groups monitoring the election reported some complaints.
Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) said they received 50 complaints on electoral violations ranging from delay in opening voting booths, to campaigning for candidates outside polling stations during voting.
There was a heavy police and military presence outside the 13,000 polling sub-stations, and the atmosphere was mostly calm, with people waiting patiently for their turn to vote.
Mohammed Mursi was originally the Muslim Brotherhood’s reserve candidate, but he was thrust into the limelight after its first choice, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified by the Higher Presidential Electoral Commission (HPEC) over an unresolved conviction.
He told reporters: “Today the world is witnessing the birth of a new Egypt. I am proud and cherish my membership of this people. I assure them that tomorrow will be better than today and better than yesterday.”
A run-off vote is scheduled for 16 and 17 June if there is no candidate manages to get more that 50% of the votes.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), worried about potential post-election unrest, has sought to reassure Egyptians that it will be the voters themselves who decide who will be the next president.
The 15 months since Hosni Mubarak was forced from power have been turbulent, with continued violent protests and a deteriorating economy.
Foreign direct investment has reversed from $6.4 billion flowing into the country in 2010 to $500 million leaving it last year.
Tourism, a major revenue generator for Egypt, has also dropped by a third.
The new president will have to reform the police to deal with the rash of crime that followed the uprising.
As many as a third of voters were reported to be undecided about which candidate to choose.
The Arab Spring began last year in Tunisia, inspiring pro-democracy activists across the Arab world.
Hosni Mubarak, who was in power for three decades, resigned on 11 February 2011 after 18 days of protests in Cairo and other cities.
He is on trial for his alleged role in the deaths of protesters. A verdict is expected in June.