CAIRO - Activists vowed to crank up pressure on Egypt's generals on Friday with an overwhelming show of people power to cap almost a week of protests against army rule that have left 41 people dead.
State media said the army leaders picked a political veteran in his late 70s to form a national salvation government, a choice that was quickly snubbed by many of the young activists who have led the demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
Cairo street battles rage on through the night
Egyptian Islamists divided over protests
Kamal Ganzouri agreed in principle to lead the new government after meeting the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the website of state newspaper Al Ahram
reported, citing sources close to Ganzouri.
As talk of a Ganzouri appointment filtered through the crowds thronging Tahrir on Thursday night, discussion quickly focused on his age.
"Ganzouri is no good for this transitional period, which needs youth leaders not grandparents," said student Maha Abdullah.
"Appointing Ganzouri is a crisis for the revolution. We must remain in Tahrir," said protester Hossam Amer, a 44-year-old tourist guide.
Metwali Atta, a 55-year-old taxi driver who was camped out in Tahrir, disagreed: "I would like to see Ganzouri as prime minister. The man has a strong character, unlike (outgoing prime minister) Essam Sharaf who was easily bossed around by the military council."
The army, hailed as a champion of the people when a popular uprising overthrow president Hosni Mubarak nine months ago, is now trying to defuse the worst crisis of its tenure.
It has promised to speed up the timetable for a handover to civilian
presidential rule and insists parliamentary elections will start on
Monday, as planned.
A truce between security forces and hard-line
protesters brought a nervous calm to the streets near Tahrir on
Thursday after five days of clashes that turned part of the capital into
a battle zone and left residents choking in clouds of tear gas.
The Egyptian Health Ministry said 41 people have died in the violence, state television reported early Friday.
army council said it was doing all it could to prevent more violence,
offered condolences and compensation to families of the dead and a swift
enquiry into who caused the unrest.
But reports of unjustified police brutality
that have swollen the ranks of protesters continue to filter out in the media.
people demand the execution of the marshal," crowds chanted on
Thursday, referring to Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defense minister for
The unrest in the heart of the capital makes it even
harder to dig the economy out of a crisis whose first victims are the
millions of poor Egyptians whose frustration spurred the protests
Egypt's central bank unexpectedly raised
interest rates on Thursday for the first time in more than two years,
after depleting its foreign reserves trying to defend a local currency
weakened by the political chaos.
In fresh blows to confidence,
the Egyptian pound weakened to more than six to the dollar for the first
time since January 2005, and Standard & Poor's cut Egypt's credit
rating.'Tutankhamen is more suitable'
economic woes may argue in favor of Ganzouri, whose government
virtually balanced the budget, cut inflation, held the exchange rate
stable and maintained healthy foreign currency reserves during his time
in office from 1996 to 1999.
He introduced some economic
liberalization measures and many Egyptians viewed him as an official who
was not tainted by corruption. But his record serving under Mubarak
could stir opposition from those demanding a clean break with the past.
Facebook activists derided the choice of a Mubarak-era man to steer the
country into a new era, listing four ancient pharaohs as useful
alternatives if Ganzouri turns the job down.
"Tutankhamen is more suitable because he is from the youth," one said, referring to the boy king of ancient Egypt.
In a communique, protesters called the million-man march on "the Friday of the last chance" for the army to hand over power.
Egyptian Independent Trade Union Federation called for a workers' march
to Tahrir. Another labor rights group called for a general strike to
back the protests. Labor unions played an important role in the movement
that toppled Mubarak.
Supporters of the army council had said
they would hold a rally to back the military. In a statement on its
Facebook page, the army council said it was "appealing to them to cancel
the demonstration," saying it wanted to avoid divisions.
that the army will continue to wield power behind an elected civilian
administration has grown in recent weeks as the government and political
parties tussled over the shape of a new constitution.
military council originally promised to return to barracks within six
months of the fall of Mubarak, but then set a timetable for elections
and drawing up the constitution that would have left it in power until
late next year or early 2013.
The United States and European
nations, alarmed at the violence of the past few days, have urged Egypt
to proceed with what has been billed as its first free vote in decades.
army and the Muslim Brotherhood, which expects to do well in the
election, say it must go ahead, but many protesters do not trust the
military to oversee a clean vote. Some scorn the Brotherhood for its
focus on gaining seats in parliament.