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Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Protests Surge, But What Next? 

The crowd outside the Presdential Palace in Egypt on Tuesday night

See also Syria 1st-Hand: The Insurgent Sniper in Aleppo
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: While US Warns About Chemical Weapons, 239 Die

2204 GMT: Syria. The FSA has now been in control of parts of Syria for many months, and with each passing week they become more like a government. The Free syrian Army has now been documented giving out aid, delivering medial supplies, and setting up their own police forces. Now, they have been documented stamping passports on the border with Turkey, and attempting to establish law and order in Aleppo:

2142 GMT: Syria. Another incredible video from Syria shows the Assad airforce using a completely inappropriate weapon against the Syrian people. The Aviationist has posted video of a Mig-23BN dropping a thermobaric weapon on Darayya, just west of Damascus:

Noteworthy, at the 00:26 of the video, the Russian bomber drops what seems to be a parachute-retarded ODAB-500 thermobaric bomb before egressing the target area at high speed deploying flares to deceive IR missiles like the one that hit a Mil Mi-17 Hip gunship lately.

2.280 mt in length and 500 mm in diameter, the ODAB-500 is a 500 kg weapon developed by Russia for use against troops, light armored vehicles, parked aircraft and other soft targets.

2126 GMT: Egypt. A prominent Twitter activist, Sultan al Qassemi, tweets some important news:

2112 GMT: Syria. A helpful reader points out that no news sites have yet posted, at least in English, any reports that Assad is now regularly using Grad rockets and/or other missiles against his people. In a discussion with Brown Moses and Guardian Mario, the consensus is that before this week there were only scattered reports of Assad using these types of multiple-launch rockets. In the last several days, however, both eyewitness reports and video evidence has proliferated (also see update 1615 for video of rocket launches). Guardian Mario shares several videos from the 3rd of December that we missed - each may show the result of multiple-launch rocket attacks. This first video is arguably the most interesting. The regularity of the hits could suggest that a multiple-launch rocket system was used. At one point, you may be able to make out the scream of a rocket flying through the air. Also, however, this video shows fires burning - which could indicate that some sort of incendiary weapon was used:

Again, the regularity of the explosions, and a streak of either a rocket or a shell can be heard - where the last one was Qusayr, south of Homs, this is Douma, east of Damascus:

What may be a destroyed rocket, potentially a Grad, in Idlib:

We're sharing these videos with other arms experts to discuss the evidence.

2100 GMT: Egypt. Live gunfire reported in Cairo:

2049 GMT: Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is now confirming that one of their headquarters has been set on fire - no official word yet on the building in Ismailia.

2043 GMT: Egypt. The number of injuries in Egypt as a result of clashes is skyrocketing:

Meanwhile, The Revolutionary Socialists says one of their members, Taha Magdy, was killed by "Brotherhood thugs" and has vowed to spend the lives of hundreds of martyrs to fight this revolution.

2032 GMT: Syria. While much of the world's attention has been focused on dramatic events in Damascus, in Aleppo the conflict resembles a slow and tedious grind, with civilians stuck between the slow moving wheels of war. CNN's Arwa Damon continues her reports from the city as she interviews a family, living in total darkness, whose father will not allow to leave for fear of the war just outside:

Journalist Jenan Moussa is also in Aleppo today, and she reports exactly why it is so dangerous in the streets:

2027 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that 65 people have been killed nationwide so far today:

25 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, 15 in Aleppo, 14 in Idlib, 4 in Daraa, 3 in Lattakia, 3 in Raqqa, 2 in Dier Ezzor and 1 in Homs.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) is an activist network operating both inside and outside of Syria. They claim to use stringent verification processes to ensure that a member of the LCC can vouch for any information posted either on their Facebook page or their website. The LCC also populates a database of those killed in the Syrian conflict, which can be seen at the website for the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria.

The LCC's casualty figures are a mix of insurgents and civilians, and never include regime casualties. Syrian State Media has stopped reporting regime casualty figures.

2020 GMT: Egypt. A spokesman for the National Salvation Front, declared tonight by a number of political factions in response to President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, has alleged that security forces have arrested people while Morsi supporters beat people in the streets. He continues to claim --- contrary to reports of the Ministry of Health --- that two people have been killed.

2015 GMT: Egypt. Anti-Morsi crowds have set fire to the headquarters of the Msulim Brotherhood in Ismailia, east of Cairo, according to Reuters. It's not clear if there were injuries.

The Front was declared this evening by Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed El Baradei and former Presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabbahi.

2004 GMT: Egypt. According to an Al Jazeera English correspondent, "Crowds are thinning a bit but thousands stretch down street." Meanwhile, Ahram Online reports:

Ahram Online's Osman El-Sharnoubi says that in Merghany Street, close to the palace, clashes have stopped for now. Morsi supporters have withdrawn from the street. Two buses and a car with Morsi banners have been destroyed by anti-Morsi protesters.

1942 GMT: Egypt. There is variation in the rising toll of injuries --- while the Ministry of Health said 63 had been wounded about 30 minutes ago, Al Jazeera English is reported 126 injured.

Part of the divergence may be that the two field hospitals set up near the Presidential Palace are not reporting figures to the Ministry of Health.

1918 GMT: Egypt. The Ministry of Health says the injury toll has risen to 63, with no deaths so far.

Ahram Online reporter Ahmed Feteha describes the scene at the Presidential Palace:

Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters are standing right before the palace, and there are two rows of Central Security Forces in front of them.

The anti-Morsi protesters, also in the hundreds, are facing the opposite direction. No violence currently as both sides keep chanting. "The people endorse the president's decision," is repeated by the Brotherhood's supporters, while protesters on the other side chant "The people want the fall of the regime," among other slogans.

1839 GMT: Egypt. Countering reports on the Internet and from the Freedom and Justice Party of fatalities, the Ministry of Health says there have been no reports of deaths so far from the clashes at the Presidential Palace. Thirteen people have been injured, in addition to five in confrontations in Tahrir Square.

1826 GMT: Egypt. Three advisors to President Morsi have now announced their resignations via television or social media:

1823 GMT: Egypt. Journalist Evan Hill reports:

1817 GMT: Syria. An activist claims the deputy governor of the northern Syrian province of Raqqa and several aides resigned on Wednesday "over interference in their work by the security forces, and also to denounce the diversion of basic commodities from Raqqa to other provinces, including flour and fuel".

1810 GMT: Egypt. The military has said in a statement that they will not get involved in the clashes around the Presidential Palace.

The Muslim Brotherhood pins blame on opposition politicians, who have just held a press conference:

1805 GMT: Egypt. A Presidential aide announces his resignation on air:

1755 GMT: Egypt. Clashes near the Presidential Palace, according to journalists Evan Hill and Erin Cunningham:

1731 GMT: Egypt. Ahram Online reports, "Molotov cocktail bombs fly around the presidential palace, fireworks lit up the sky and gunshots were heard as clashes flurred up minutes before 7pm (1700 GMT) at the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday between supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and his opponents, who had been holding a protest sit-in at the site since Tuesday night."

Central Security Forces, who had withdrawn from the front line on Tuesday, re-appeared an hour earlier in an attempt to separate the two sides.

Witnesses said several thousand pro-Morsi supporters arrived at the Palace just before 4pm, attacking activists at the sit-in.

1634 GMT: Syria. The Syrian insurgents have won more traditional battles, but they also continue tactics that they have used since the start of the war - traditional asymmetrical warfare. This video was reportedly taken in Hich, south of the primary fighting in Ma'arrat al Nouman, Idlib province (map). It was reportedly taken today. The fighters of the Musab bin Omair brigade are seen using captured munitions to make an improvised explosive device, a device which is then used to destroy a tank and a pickup truck. The tactic is as important as the location - making attacks like this south of the front helps ensure that the Assad army struggles to keep open supply lines closer to the front.

1615 GMT: Syria. Two days ago, there were many reports of "rocket launchers" being used by the regime, and video surfaced that suggested that Assad forces were firing rockets, possibly either Grad or Type 63 rockets from the Mezzeh airforce base just west of Damascus. Yesterday, Peter Bouckaert, emergency director for Human Rights Watch, shared with me this video, which could show Grad rockets firing on the suburbs of Damascus:

Another video shows rockets launching at night.

Today, activists say that these smoke trails belong to two "long-range missiles" fired from a base near the capital. Without video of the actual rockets, there is no way to tell what these were:

These types of rocket attacks were nearly unheard of not long ago. Now, there are reports of them in every corner of the country, though mostly near Damascus (the only area we've seen videos). This suggests that the Assad regime is growing more desperate and is trying to find uses for weapons it has in its arsenal that have, thus far, not been utilized.

1604 GMT: Syria. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman today described NATO's deployment of patriot missiles to Turkey as "inconducive to peace, security and stability in the whole region". Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters today that China has "noticed the situation" and continued to seek a political resolution to the conflict in Syria through dialogue.

1555 GMT: Syria. The Guardian speaks to an activist in the Mezzeh district, one of the most crucial districts in Damascus. According to Majd Arar, the power balance is shifting in Damascus and the Free Syrian Army has the upper-hand, but uncertainty and danger is growing:

Everyone is fearing what is coming to Damascus. But it has to be done in terms of bringing down the regime, because until now the regime seems not willing to surrender. It is not clear yet if the FSA is willing or able to enter and storm Damascus. People here are saying the FSA should be more prepared and not revisit the same fate as [the rebels had] in Aleppo.


What is happening now in Damascus is a great milestone in the whole uprising, because we are feeling the weakness of the government - it’s not able to control the city.

Meanwhile, once again the road between the capital and Damascus International Airport is under siege:

1538 GMT: Egypt. The pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood supporters (often called Ikhwan) ran the anti-Morsi protesters off and then attacked their tents:

However, the "Ultras," soccer fans who are always looking for a fight, are now on their way to confront the pro-Morsi crowd. The Ultras were key players in some of the bloodiest battles of the uprising in 2011:

1527 GMT: Syria. Journalist Lauren Wolfe, director of Women Under Siege, is collecting, verifying, and mapping reports of sexual violence in Syria. She reports for CNN that "Rape is tearing Syrians apart." She gives several anecdotes she has collected, including the one below:

His eyes welled up as he relayed what his neighbor said happened to a friend. The neighbor described being stopped in his car at a Syrian checkpoint on the road from Zabadani to Damascus. He said army officers told him to leave his daughter with them. My driver said he knew no other details than this, that the man had been given a horrific choice to make: leave his daughter behind, or his wife and other children would be killed in front of his eyes.

The man made a decision, the driver said. He left his daughter at the checkpoint and drove on.

Lauren adds:

1510 GMT: Syria. It is certainly true that Assad still has at least partial control of most areas immediately around Damascus, despite the insurgents in the area who have proven time and time again that they can strike anywhere at any time. However, venture north of the capital and it is not so clear. Some of the suburbs on the road between Homs and Damascus have a very strong insurgent presence, a force that could threaten Assad's lines in both Damascus and Homs as the conflict moves forward.

One of the places that this is clear is Al Nabik, just north of Yabroud and halfway between the capital and Homs (map). Today, this funeral demonstration, attended by at least a few hundred protesters, was a clear demonstration of Assad's weak influence away from the core of Damascus:

Only yesterday, however, the town was hit by multiple airstrikes, proving that the reach of the regime's arm has not yet forgotten the towns on this crucial road.

1448 GMT: Syria/Lebanon. The Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon has agreed to hand over the bodies of Lebanese fighters killed in Syria. Up to 22 men from Tripoli were reportedly killed last week in an ambush, after they left Lebanon to join rebel fighters in Syria. The Ambassador said he could not confirm the number of bodies and added that the transfer will take place in stages.

Meanwhile, there was even more evidence that the conflict in Syria is threatening security in some Lebanese cities:

1442 GMT: Egypt. The general consensus is that while the anti-Morsi crowds that gathered last night were much larger than the pro-Morsi crowds that have gathered today, the anti-Morsi crowd is currently outnumbered, and has been attacked by members of the Morsi supporters:

Injuries are reported:

1434 GMT: Egypt. The situation is reportedly highly chaotic in Cairo, near the Presidential Palace, and police are not intervening:

1428 GMT: Egypt. The supporters of the president have clashed with anti-Morsi protesters near the palace.

A source reports:

According to several reports, multiple western journalists have been attacked by the pro-Morsi crowd, though this is unconfirmed.

And this video was reportedly taken not long before the clashes:

1416 GMT: Israel and Palestine. Defying international criticism, Israel's Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria has approved the submission of a plan for 3500 apartments for Jewish settlers in the "E1" area on Palestinian territory near East Jerusalem.

There is a 60-day period for objections to the plan.

European countries, the US, Australia, and Brazil condemned the announcement of the Netanyahu Government on Friday that it would advance building plans in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained that building in E1 is the appropriate response to the United Nations General Assembly recognition of Palestine as an Observer State last Thursday.

1358 GMT: Kuwait. The Emir of Kuwait has reappointed Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah as the Prime Minister, following Saturday's elections. Al-Sahab, who has been Prime Minister since last November, must form a new cabinet by 16 December. As part of Kuwait's constitutional formalities, the previous cabinet resigned on Monday.

Turnout for the Parliamentary election was depressed by an opposition boycott, amid protests against the Emir's changes to electoral laws. Shia parties benefited from the low participation, winning an unprecedented 17 of 50 seats. Sunni parties claimed only four.

The Financial Times profiles "rich, young Kuwaitis" who are challenging the regime.

1352 GMT: Syria. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has said that its Embassy will repatriate nationals who want to leave.

Spokesperson Amr Roshdy said 60 Egyptians will be taken by land to Beirut. An agreement has been reached with Syrian authorities to allow the Egyptians to travel through Lebanon despite not possessing Lebanese entry visas.

1348 GMT: Syria. NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks to a hard-line Salafist in Aleppo who says he is working to found an Islamic state:

I ask him, "What if other people don't want Islamic law?"

"People are the ones who is going to decide," he replies through an interpreter. "If the people doesn't want that, that's their decision."

It sounds fair enough, but Ahrar al-Sham isn't known for its tolerance. Aid kits for refugees include religious materials urging women to cover, and the group refused to meet with NPR's female interpreter until recently. That said, the fact that Abu Anas is even talking to me, a foreigner and a non-Muslim, is something. That plus the fact that his group believes in the people's right to choose their leaders shows that it's not the most hard-line Islamist group in this fight.

McEvers goes on to interview a secular member of the Free Syrian Army who says that the "next war will be against the Islamists."

1343 GMT: Egypt. Following yesterday's huge protests outside the Presidential Palace, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has said plan to hold "massive" protests in the same location at 4pm local time today. A leading figure within the FJP told Ahram Online that the party is determined the "stay the course" to uphold President Morsi's constitutional declaration.

The referendum on the new constitution is scheduled to take place on 15 December. Yesterday, President Morsi delayed a planned trip to Washington, due to current events. The trip had been planned for 17 December, two days after the referendum. The trip has now been delayed until February 2013. A delegation of Egyptian officials is currently in Washington for talks on "Egypt’s democratic transition", as well as "bilateral economic cooperation, joint efforts to promote regional security" and "the cease-fire in Gaza".

1340 GMT: Iraq/Syria. Iraq has barred four scheduled Syrian flights from entering the country to collect attack helicopters which had been repaired by Russia. The Syrian government has been trying to recover the helicopters since June.

Iraq has recently come under pressure from the US and other countries to stop any arms from reaching Syria. The Iraqi Prime Minister's media advisor told ProPublica yesterday:

We will not authorize any overflight until we make sure that it does not contain any military equipment in line with the Iraqi government's policy which firmly rejects allowing transporting any military shipments via our airspace from or to Syria.

1338 GMT: Turkey. The Turkish army has killed 13 members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and arrested 5 others, near the Syrian border. Reuters reports that the operation, involving "troops and attack helicopters", took place "at the western end of Turkey's frontier with Syria, far from the main arena of conflict between" the Turkish army and the PKK.

1327 GMT: Bahrain. Yesterday we reported on the police shooting of 19-year-old Aqeel Abdul Mohsen. Graphic images showed that he had been injured with gunfire --- possibly live ammunition rather than birdshot --- to the face.

This morning the Ministry of Interior put out its explanation that Abdul Mohsen "tried to crash into a police patrol van last night in Bani Jamrah":

The police was searching for suspects in the village and two boys ran out of house and got into a car. In their attempt to escape they happened to drive in the direction of the police jeep and the policeman had to fire shots for self defence. The car sped further and at the end of the chase security officials found the car empty. Later the operations room got a call stating that an injured boy was brought to SMC [Salmaniyah Medical Centre].

Bahrain's police chief added on Twitter, “The coming days will witness frantic attempts to rioting and terrorism to draw the attention towards abuses in the Kingdom."

1321 GMT: Syria. Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has made some surprisingly revealing statements. According to Lavrov, Russia's official position is in accordance with NATO's that there is no military option for solving the Syrian crisis:

"Our partners touched upon the Syrian situation and assured us they were seeking an exclusively peaceful solution,” he disclosed. “They said a military solution to the conflict was non-existent – and we fully agreed with them."

Lavrov emphasized the Russian position that “there will be political and diplomatic support in an effort to urge the combatants to stop the bloodshed and sit down at the negotiating table.”

"Syria is not Libya,” Lavrov added, making reference to NATO’s decision to intervene in last year’s Libyan civil war, which led to the capture and assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Yet, on chemical weapons, Lavrov suggested that Assad would not use them, and this would be a "red line" for Russia as well:

“For us, any violations of international agreements in this area are unacceptable," Lavrov stressed.

1314 GMT: Syria. Washington Post starts today with a bold analysis - that the Assad regime is showing "serious cracks" in its military apparatus and is unlikely to recover from recent insurgent gains. However, they quote Joseph Holliday, from ISW, who takes a more conservative approach when defining the timeline of the conflict:

Military experts cautioned that the fighting is likely to drag on, barring a surprise development such as the assassination or abdication of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Joseph Holliday, a former U.S. Army officer and senior researcher at the Institute for the Study of War who has examined the capabilities of Syrian rebels, said a decisive victory could be several months, if not years, away.

Holliday said rebel squads have shown increasing tactical skills and deployed momentum-changing weapons, including roadside bombs and antiaircraft missiles. The bombs have limited the movement of Syrian troops and the antiaircraft guns have forced Syrian pilots to fly at higher altitudes, he said. The net result is that the Syrian military has surrendered critical territory and appears to lack the resources to regain ground.

In my discussions yesterday with Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor, that timeline seems generous. The Assad regime now has very few pockets of resistance in both Aleppo and Idlib, and both Aleppo city and Idlib city are effectively under siege (the siege on Aleppo is at a more advanced state). We'll know enough to make a better prediction soon, but there are a few key elements that have prevented us from making a prediction on how long the Assad regime can last. For starters, the fall of Deir Ez Zor will free up large waves of (largely Iraqi) insurgents to attack to the north. It's unclear how close Deir Ez Zor is to falling into insurgent hands, but this appears to depend on the siege of the nearby airport. In Aleppo, the city and two major air bases are also under siege. In all likelihood, the rebels will have the city surrounded "soon," but how soon will make a significant impact on the speed that the conflict develops. In Idlib, the major question is how long the base near Ma'arrat al Nouman, sieged for weeks, can hold out. Once that falls, the FSA will be free to attack Idlib city to the north and potentially Hama to the south. This will also significantly effect any timeline.

The insurgents appear very patient in many areas, with the key exceptions being Damascus and Daraa where the insurgents do not have the upper hand in brute military strength. They appear to be starving Assad's soldiers out rather than storming in to capture bases and cities. Militarily, this is wise, as nearly all experts agree that Assad does not have the strength to retake the north or the east.

There's a problem, however. With winter arriving, and temperatures dropping as quickly as the bombs are falling, the insurgents have the luxury of time - but the Syrian people do not. Furthermore, the sudden emergence of large numbers of Iraqi fighters, many of them radical, in the east is concerning - and is a trend that is likely to continue to speed up as the war drags on.

James Miller, back from a speaking engagement with NPR's Andy Carvin at Boston College, takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.

0930 GMT: Syria. McClatchy News Service posts a provocative report:

In an apparent bid to isolate Islamist extremists and bolster a new Western-backed Syrian opposition alliance, the United States is moving to declare one of the most effective Syrian rebel groups a "foreign terrorist organization" because of its alleged ties to al Qaida.

The State Department originally planned to add the Nusra Front --- Jabhat al Nusra in Arabic --- to its list of international terrorist groups this week, McClatchy learned. The announcement was postponed, however, as officials discussed how to get the maximum impact from the designation.

The designation now is likely just before the United States and its European and Arab allies meet with leaders of the new opposition alliance at a conference Dec. 12 in Morocco, where a significant aid package for the new alliance is expected to be announced.

The impact of the terrorist designation for Nusra, whose members have been at the forefront of many of the rebels’ most recent victories, remains unclear. Many rebel sympathizers said they were concerned that the designation would make it impossible for rebel groups to coordinate in their fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

0917 GMT: Egypt. Several hundred protesters have camped overnight outside one of the gates of the Presidential Palace, with traffic moving normally around them.

An aide said simply that President Morsi had "returned to work" this morning.

Meanwhile, the head of the Constituent Assembly has responded to a strike by journalist by rejecting their demand for an article in the draft Constitution banning the imprisonment of reporters for press-related offenses.

Amr Darrag said the measure would be considered "discrimination in favour of a particular professional class".

0857 GMT: Bahrain. MP Hassan Al Dossary has said legislators will submit a request to the Foreign Ministry for the replacement of US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski.

"What does the US ambassador want from Bahrain and why is he allowed to interfere in the kingdom's affairs?" Mr Al Dossary asked in a Parliamentary session. "The US administration must be aware of what's going on. Americans must understand that their ambassador to Bahrain is causing them harm. No other previous US ambassador did what the present one is doing now."

Krajeski, like his predecessor, has been the target of periodic criticism from MPs who claim the Ambassador has supported the opposition.

0853 GMT: Syria. Insurgents near Damascus International Airport:

0631 GMT: Syria. Tuesday was marked by stories of siege near Aleppo, where insurgents claim they have surrounded hundreds of regime troops in a military academy, and of the growing crisis over food in the city.

On the political front, the US warning to the Assad regime against chemical weapons, including a personal statement from President Obama, was followed by similar declarations from Britain, France, and NATO.

Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees report that 184 people were killed, including 110 in Damascus and its suburbs. Among that toll were 29 students and a teacher slain by a mortar in a school in a refugee camp --- each side has accused the other of responsibility.

0615 GMT: Egypt. While the estimates of the protesting crowds in Tahrir Square and in front of the Presidential Palace on Tuesday night varied widely --- a supportive Ahram Online said "hundreds of thousands", while a critical Muslim Brotherhood said less than 2000 --- the drama and the message were clear.

These were massive protests --- we'll settle for "tens of thousands", based on the images --- in both size and intensity against the rule of President Morsi, his claiming of expanded power through decrees, and the rushed process producing the draft Constitution.

Misleading summaries of the evening feature the word "clashes". In fact, the confrontation outside the Palace with security forces lasted only a few minutes before the police withdrew about a kilometre from the front line of demonstrations that remained peaceful.

Meanwhile, journalists of 12 newspapers and five TV channels expressed their anger and frustration by striking, while judges appeared to be divided on whether to boycott their supervision of the referendum on the Constitution.

The question is "What Next?" The proposed referendum on the Constitution is only 10 days away. Morsi supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood, of whom the President is a senior member, will try and stage counter-protests, while opponents have called for another mass gathering on Friday. However, beyond those calls and the 15 December referendum, there is no outline of what political and legal steps might be taken.

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