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Egypt's constitutional panel votes on draft

CAIRO (AP) — The panel offering amendments to Egypt's suspended constitution began voting Sunday on a series of changes to the document, as deep divisions remain over portions on the effect Islamic law has on lawmaking and the powers of the military.

Panel spokesman Mohammed Salmawy told reporters that only three articles passed by consent by midday. The panel is amending a total of 189 of the constitution's more than 230 articles. The panel of mostly liberal-leaning members is pushing ahead with its work, aiming to put the draft to a public vote one month after referring it to the interim president. A military-backed timetable calls for new parliamentary and presidential elections next year as well.

Authorities suspended the constitution after a July 3 popularly backed military coup toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The constitution was drafted under his watch by a panel dominated by Islamists.

The constitutional panel now looking at changes has no representatives from Morsi's group, the Muslim Brotherhood. It was invited to participate but refused to join. Other Islamist parties refused to participate, with only the ultraconservative Salafi al-Nour party agreeing to join.

Authorities believe putting a draft constitution to a vote will stabilize a still-tumultuous Egypt, were Morsi supporters continue scattered protests that often become violent. They also believe a vote will help legitimize the military overthrow of an elected president.

However, the process has hit a number of obstacles. Among divisive portions of the constitution is one article that defined Shariah, or Islamic law. Prior to constitution implemented under Morsi, the charter only said the "principles of Shariah" were the main source of legislation, allowing for a loose interpretation.

The panel is debating whether to delete or amend that portion. That's a major point for the Al-Nour party, seen as the face of hard-line Islamists. It was the only Islamist party that supported Morsi's overthrow, but it since has threatened to withdraw if the Shariah law portion was taken out of the constitution.

Among other divisive portions of the constitution are those that allow for military tribunals to try civilians. Such tribunals often offer swift and harsh verdicts that allow no chance for appeal. Salmawy, the panel's spokesman, said that the three articles passed included one about criminalizing torture, one preserving dignity and one banning discrimination. He said that unlike Morsi's constitution, a separate portion has been proposed to specifically combat torture. He said another portion gives detainees the right to appeal their detention within 48 hours of being jailed by authorities.

As the panel voted Sunday, a spokesman of Egypt's interior minister, Gen. Hani Abdel-Latif, told Egypt's official MENA news agency that an ex-Egyptian army officer was behind the suicide bombing that unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate the minister last month. Abdel-Latif said that the officer was sacked from his job in the military more than 10 years ago because of his "extremist ideas." He also confirmed the man, identified Saturday on a militant video as Waleed Badr, went to Afghanistan and joined terror groups in Iraq and Syria before returning to Egypt.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim escaped the suicide car bombing Sept. 5 unharmed, though the blast killed a bystander and wounded 22 people.

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