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Egyptian Cabinet Submits Resignation Amid Protests

WATCH: Police clashed with protesters and used tear gas against them near the Interior Ministry on a third day of unrest in Cairo. (Video by Reuters)

By Kristin Deasy

Egypt's military-appointed government submitted its resignation tonight in an attempt to calm the situation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where for a third day thousands of demonstrators rallied to demand a civilian government

Cabinet spokesman Mohammed Hegazy said that the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had submitted its resignation to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, but it was not immediately clear whether the military council had accepted it.

The three days of demonstrations have been marred by violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators.

The death toll has reached at least 24, with more than 1,750 injured.

Today brought fresh reports of security forces firing tear gas, rubber bullets and, according to some eyewitnesses, live ammunition at young men in the streets around the square.

The resurgence of the protests reflects growing public anger over the slow pace of reforms following the February ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak and concerns that the country's provisional military rulers will try to retain power.

The violence also comes little more than a week before Egyptians are scheduled to start voting in key parliamentary elections on November 28.

State television has also reported protests in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the canal city of Suez.

Today, Ayman Nour, the leader of Egypt's Al-Ghad party and a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, said those responsible for the violence must be held accountable.

"The first demand in the statement is an immediate end to all acts of violence toward demonstrators and the initiation of a fair and transparent, legislative and political investigation of those responsible for the events that have been taking place in Tahrir Square and several other squares in Egypt in the past few hours," he said.

World leaders also condemned the bloodshed, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling on authorities to guarantee the right to peaceful protest.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the United States supports the goal of having a democratically elected civilian government in Egypt and said upcoming parliamentary elections were crucial.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the violence in Egypt over the past few days. We deplore the loss of life and our condolences go out to the families of the victims of this violence. In the coming days, it will be very important for all parties to focus on holding free, fair, and peaceful elections as scheduled, on November 28. We urge all involved to act with restraint in order to allow free and fair elections to proceed," Nuland said.

Protesters and riot police face off near Tahrir Square in Cairo on November 21.
Protesters and riot police face off near Tahrir Square in Cairo on November 21.

Twenty-four-year-old Sabry Khaled, a dentist from the northern city of Giza, was shot twice in the back with rubber bullets during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the center of the protests that led to the end of Mubarak's 30-year rule.

He told RFE/RL that people are fed up with the country's military rulers.

"They are sick of the SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] violations. They [are] saying that SCAF is even worse than Mubarak -- that it's the same as the Mubarak regime when it comes to dealing with peaceful protests," Khaled says. "They hate everything about the military rule. We're chanting all the time, 'Esqat Esqat Hukm-ul- Askar,' which means, 'Down with military rule.'"

For months, rights groups have been criticizing Egypt's military leadership over its treatment of opposition activists.

Human Rights Watch issued a report in March condemning the "brutal" tactics being used to repress dissent, such the reported use of torture on detainees and the trial of civilians in closed military courts.

Protester Ahmad Aiyad, a 23-year-old entrepreneur, joined the crowds at Tahrir Square on November 20.

"What's really tragic is that people are being shot and killed on national television [and] people are not moving," Aiyad says. "And I don't think that people [in power], the government, or the military council, is acknowledging what's happening. ... [It's] like they're saying, 'We didn't kill anyone' and it's on TV. It's live. Everybody can see it in the world. I don't know. We [protesters] are not getting enough support."

Although Egypt's ruling military denies any attempt to maintain power past the proposed transfer to civilian rule, protesters are leery.

Flyers are circulating among them calling for the withdrawal of the constitutional proposal. The protesters say the draft constitution would allow the provisional military rulers to retain too much power even after a new civilian government is elected.

Others demand that presidential elections be held no later than April 2012.

Aiyad says the violence has protesters in Tahrir feeling like they are back at "square one" when it comes to political reform. But he's still hopeful that this time around, things will end differently.

A protester prepares to hurl a tear-gas canister back at security forces as others run for cover on the third day of clashes on Tahrir Square in Cairo on November 21.
A protester prepares to hurl a tear-gas canister back at security forces as others run for cover on the third day of clashes on Tahrir Square in Cairo on November 21.

"The people in the square are so determined [that] they are not moving," Aiyad says. "Right now, as soon as I'm finished work, I'm going back there and I might stay the night. The problem is, we need a way out, which we don't have at the moment. We hope that some sort of a leadership will arise. I don't know, but right now we are just working on a scenario.

"People on the policymakers level are...trying to come up with forcing the national government to resign, like giving us a new national government that can actually implement our demands, that can actually accomplish what we have revolted for."

In a statement read out on state-run television, the government said the unrest will not derail the elections. The staggered ballots to the lower and upper houses are to be held from November 28 through mid-March.

with agency reports

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