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Germany offers assistance as Egypt begins transitional period

The German government has offered to send election observers to Egypt to help the country during a six-month transitional period. On Sunday, Egypt's military dissolved parliament ahead of planned elections in September.

Protesters surrounded by army

A core of protesters remains in Cairo's Tahrir Square

The German government on Monday pledged to assist Egypt on its path to democracy, offering to send election observers as soon as possible to monitor the democratic process from the very beginning.

In an interview with the daily Berliner Zeitung, Werner Hoyer, minister of state for the Foreign Office, said Germany would help Egypt establish a multi-party system and prepare for the upcoming elections, scheduled for September.

"This process must, and should, stay in the hands of the Egyptians, but we are prepared to offer any available help, should Cairo request it," said Hoyer. "Egypt has a chance of being a beacon of democracy for the entire region. For this reason, we must ensure that this process is successful."

Military rule

A six-month period of military rule began in Egypt on Sunday, as the nation's new military rulers suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - a body of some 20 generals - is now Egypt's executive body following Friday's resignation of now former President Hosni Mubarak. On state television, the council announced there would be a transitional period of half a year while reforms were put in place to allow free elections.

The council declared the suspension of the constitution and the "dissolution of the lower and upper houses of parliament," which were dominated by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

A committee will be formed to oversee amendments to the constitution and a popular referendum will be organized to vote on the changes, the council said.

The statement also confirmed Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi as Egypt's de facto head of state.

Reopening Tahrir Square

Troops face off with a protester

Troops were told to clear the square and met resistence from protesters

Meanwhile, a core group of several thousand protesters vowed to stay in Cairo's Tahrir Square to press demands for change. Egyptians on Saturday swept and cleaned much of the public square that served as the epicenter of anti-government protests for nearly three weeks.

Military troops, some wielding sticks, pushed aside protesters overnight to reopen the square to traffic. Some demonstrators took down tents that had been erected in the square and soldiers removed others.

"We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today," said Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police.

A standoff took place between troops and protesters as the demonstrators argued over whether to stay in the square or comply with army orders.

"The sit-in and protests are in constant activity until the demands are met," said Mahmoud Nassar, an activist of the "Youth of the Jan. 25 Revolution" group.

Protesters have demanded the immediate release of political prisoners, the lifting of a state of emergency used by Mubarak to crush opposition, the closure of military courts, fair elections and a swift handover of power to civilians.

Mummy mask of Tutankhamun

Missing artifacts include a gilded wooden statue of Tutankhamen

An army source said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will ban meetings by labor unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell people to get back to work.

Looted treasures

Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum announced Sunday that several priceless artifacts had been looted during the original unrest sparked by the revolt.

Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities, said a statue of the renowned boy king Tutankhamen and several other ancient treasures had been stolen.

Looters had broken into the museum off Tahrir Square on January 28, during clashes between protesters and riot police.

Meanwhile the British Business Secretary Vince Cable urged the international community to take "concerted" action to deal with any Mubarak assets held abroad.

Cable warned the government would act against any British bank involved in helping Mubarak improperly move funds, but said it would not act alone.

So far only Switzerland has announced a freeze on assets that might belong to Mubarak.

Authors: Catherine Bolsover, Martin Kuebler (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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