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Egyptian military agrees to new cabinet as protesters turn up the heat

Egypt's ruling military council has agreed to form a new government that will prepare a presidential election to be held before next July. But the concessions were swiftly rejected by protesters in central Cairo.

An Egyptian protester hangs an effigy representing Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi

Protests in Cairo have entered their fifth day

Protesters continued to do battle with security forces in Cairo on Wednesday, despite the ruling military authority's pledge to speed up the transfer to democratic rule.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for an independent probe into the killing of demonstrators by Egyptian security forces. At least 38 people have been killed in the clashes in recent days, according to the Elnadeem Center, an Egyptian rights group. The Egyptian Health Ministry has reported 35 deaths.

"I urge the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and ammunition," said Pillay.

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Tuesday agreed to the formation of a national salvation government and to hand power to a civilian authority by July, instead of late 2012 or early 2013, as originally planned.

But the concessions failed to convince thousands of people gathered in central Cairo's Tahrir Square, who demanded an immediate end to military rule. The square was the epicenter of the protests that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Protesters chanted "leave, leave," referring to the head of the ruling SCAF military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi

The Egyptian military is ready to cede power, says Tantawi

Tantawi announced after an all-party meeting with politicians that the military was ready to cede power sooner than originally planned through a referendum.

"The Armed Forces do not seek power and are ready to leave power immediately through the holding of a popular referendum if necessary," Tantawi said in a televised address.

Protesters chanted their rejection of the speech by Tantawi, calling for the installation of a civilian government.

Military moves to mollify dissent

Selim al-Awwa, a presidential hopeful who attended the meeting, said, "it was agreed to form a government of national salvation, which would implement the goals of the revolution."

Awwa also said it was agreed that "power would be handed over to an elected civilian president no later than the end of June 2012."

Egypt's ruling military council is facing its worst crisis since it stepped in to replace Mubarak in February. With little success, it has been trying to contain the growing protests with violence.

The political leaders who attended Tuesday's discussions in Cairo said a parliamentary election, scheduled to begin on November 28, would go ahead as planned, despite the latest violence.

An Egyptian painter works on election banners

Egyptians want democracy sooner rather than later

Participants in the talks also said that controversial proposals put forward by the outgoing cabinet, which would have permanently shielded the military from civilian oversight under a new constitution, had been dropped.

On Monday, the military-appointed interim civilian government tendered its resignation in the wake of protests, but the SCAF had initially refused to accept it.

It was also announced that all people detained during the recent clashes would be released.

International criticism

The United States, meanwhile, is losing its patience with Egypt's military rulers.

The Obama administration ratcheted up its criticism on Tuesday, blaming the military for the new wave of violence. State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, condemned the police for using excessive force and urged maximum restraint and discipline.

She did, however, praise the military for pledging to hold elections as planned and hand back power to civilians.

Germany called on Wednesday for an end to political violence, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman saying Egypt's military rulers needed to pay attention to the protesters' demands.

"In the new Egypt, which intends to be free and democratic, there can be no place for repression and violence against peaceful demonstrators," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Author: Gregg Benzow, David Levitz, Joanna Impey, Spencer Kimball (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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