CAIRO — Thousands of opposition protesters converged on Cairo's Tahrir Square and marched on the presidential palace Friday in defiance of President Mohammed Morsi's call for a national dialogue to bridge Egypt's expanding political divide.
Protesters broke through barbed-wire barriers surrounding the palace Friday night, and witnesses said Republican Guard troops guarding it retreated behind the palace walls.
Opposition leaders rejected Morsi's invitation to participate in a national dialogue today at the palace. An alliance of prominent opposition figures, calling itself the National Salvation Front, said in a statement Friday that the invitation failed to meet "the principles of real and serious negotiations" and displayed "complete disregard for the main demands" of the front. The group's demands include the annulment of a decree that granted Morsi the power to legislate without oversight and cancellation of the president's plans to hold a national referendum on a controversial draft constitution on Dec. 15.
In a televised speech Thursday night, Morsi coupled his invitation with a denunciation of Wednesday night's deadly clashes between his Islamist backers and liberal, secular and other government critics.
"By the time he gave the speech, people were already hitting each other," said Mustafa Maher, a naval academy student who marched toward the palace with thousands of others after the Friday noon prayer.
"Morsi should go," Maher added. "He hasn't done anything for us."
Meanwhile, the attorney general's office said Friday that it had opened investigations into three top opposition figures. And the Muslim Brotherhood held a rival demonstration outside Cairo's pre-eminent al-Azhar mosque.
Thousands gathered to hear a sermon by the Brotherhood's leader and supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, and to witness the public funerals of group members who were killed in the recent clashes.
The competing rhetoric and scenes of defiance as Egypt headed into its weekend underscored the extent to which the president's Thursday night overture failed to move the country toward a political solution.