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Egypt Military Pledges To Speed Up Power Transfer

  • RFE/RL

The embattled head of Egypt’s ruling military council has taken to the airwaves of state television to announce that he has accepted the resignation of the army-appointed cabinet and that presidential elections would be moved up to take place by the summer of next year.

In his speech on November 22, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), said that "parliamentary elections will take place on time and presidential elections will be completed before the end of June 2012"

Tantawi also floated the idea of the military immediately ceding power to a civilian-led government if a popular referendum shows that Egyptians favor the move.

"The armed forces, represented by the Supreme Council, do not aspire to govern and place the country's interest above all else," he said. "[The military] is ready to immediately hand over responsibilities and return to its main responsibilities of protecting the nation, if the people wish, and that could be carried out through a national referendum, if the situation calls for one."

But Tantawi’s concessions -- along with his denial that security forces have used undue violence in four days of clashes with protesters -- did not appease the more than 100,000 people who packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Thousands shouted "Leave" in reference to Tantawi, who is also the defense minister, as protesters vowed to remain in the square until the military immediately transfers power to a people’s government.

Protester Ibtisam al-Hamalawy said, "We can't trust what he says. The ball has been in SCAF's court for months, and they didn't do anything."

'A Useless Government'

Speaking before Tantawi’s speech, protester Hazem Mahmud claimed the military-appointed government’s offer to resign on November 21 -- which has now been accepted -- was not enough to meet protesters' demands.

"It was a useless government, General Marshal [Tantawi] should resign," he said. "We are tired of this situation. The army is responsible for all of our current problems. We will not leave this place again."

The protesters had assembled on November 22 in response to a call by organizers for a "million-man march" against military rule.

Police and soldiers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets:

Tantawi’s speech came after the military council held crisis talks with several political forces in the country in a bid to contain the unrest.

After the popular overthrow of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February, the military council that took control said it would transfer its powers to civilians within six months or after parliamentary and presidential elections.

Now, Tantawi has said parliamentary elections set for November 28 will go ahead as scheduled.

Some have demanded that a presidential election, which was previously to be held in late 2012 or 2013, be moved up. Today, Tantawi met that demand.

But still, many politicians and citizens say the military has attempted to cling to power.

Constitutional principles proposed by the military-backed cabinet would have shielded the army from civilian oversight and given it broad national security powers.

The fear has prompted the mass street protests, as citizens try to “safeguard their revolution.”

Worst Political Violence Since Mubarak

Egypt’s worst political violence since the final days of Mubarak's regime has claimed some 30 lives since November 19. More than 1,200 have been injured in the clashes.

Most of the deaths have been in Cairo. Although earlier deaths reportedly were caused by asphyxiation from tear gas or from rubber bullets fired at close range, doctors and human rights activists in Cairo say some people killed during the last 24 hours were struck with live ammunition.

On November 22, the U.S. State Department condemned what it called “excessive” use of force by Egyptian police against protesters and said Washington would hold Egypt's ruling military council to its commitments.

In a statement released on the same fay, Amnesty International said the Egyptian military authorities had "completely failed" to protect human rights.

Speaking to Reuters, Said Haddadi, an Egypt researcher at Amnesty International, accused the country’s military rulers of using the same kind of oppressive tactics as Mubarak's ousted regime.

"They have used again the same rhetoric as under Mubarak, referring to security and the need to preserve public order," he said. "They have clamped down on fundamental freedoms. And if you look at their performance, they have done far worse than Mubarak."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also expressed concern about the bloodshed, calling for the Egyptian authorities to "guarantee" the protection of human rights and civil liberties.

based on agency reports

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