US urges Egypt's military to quit power as crisis deepens
Egypt's political crisis deepened last night as the US urged the military to give up power immediately and protesters laid siege to the Cabinet office in Cairo.
The demonstrators were trying to prevent the new prime minister, derided as a stooge of the military leadership, from taking up his post. For the seventh successive day, a vast crowd thronged the city's Tahrir Square to press their demand for an immediate restoration of civilian rule.
More than 100,000 people heeded a call for a show of force at the landmark.
The White House said the transfer of power to a civilian government in Egypt must be "just and inclusive" and take place "as soon as possible".
In a significant increase of pressure on the ruling generals, Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, said: "The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately."
The US provides $1.3bn (€1bn) in aid to the Egyptian military each year. It has repeatedly called for restraint on both sides despite evidence of brutal tactics by the military. The protesters named yesterday Last Chance Friday, claiming they were giving the country's generals a final opportunity to hand over power. As night fell, the square echoed to raucous chants demanding the fall of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the leader of a military council that has ruled since Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was deposed in February.
A truce held for a second day after deadly clashes between the security forces and the protesters earlier in the week. The atmosphere in the square was festive. But the country is drifting into a debilitating stalemate ahead of the first parliamentary elections since the Mubarak era, due to begin on Monday.
Facing the gravest challenge to their administration of the country since Mr Mubarak's downfall, the generals responded first with brutal force, killing 41 protesters, before changing tack to offer concessions.
Although they promised to accelerate the transition, neither an announcement that Egypt would have a civilian president by next June nor the resignation of the unpopular cabinet placated the protesters.
In what was seen as a backward step, the generals announced that they had chosen Kamel el-Ganzoury as prime minister. The choice of the 78 year-old, who served in the same position under Mr Mubarak from 1996 to 1999, stunned protesters, who chanted: "Illegitimate! Illegitimate!"
A crowd of hundreds marched on the Cabinet office, vowing to stop the appointment.
"This has got to be some kind of a joke," said Mohammed Osman, a pharmacist.The appointment even seemed to stun the Muslim Brotherhood, who had supported the army plan. The Islamists complained that they had not been consulted over the selection of Mr Ganzoury, who is accused of overseeing the torture and incarceration of thousands of their number when he was last prime minister. (© Daily Telegraph, London)