Egyptian former prime minister Kamal Ganzouri accepted a request from the ruling generals to form a new government, state media reported, but protesters brushed away their choice and vowed to hold another mass rally on Friday to demand the army quit power.

Ganzouri confirmed he had agreed in principle to lead a national salvation government after meeting with the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the website of state newspaper Al Ahram reported, citing sources close to Ganzouri.

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In an attempt to defuse protests by thousands of Egyptians frustrated by nine months of military rule, the army council promised parliamentary elections would start on time next week. It earlier said it would speed up the timetable for a handover from military to civilian presidential rule.

Violent clashes with police in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square since Saturday have killed dozens, in scenes reminiscent of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February.

"The people demand the execution of the marshal," crowds chanted, referring to army chief Tantawi who was Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years.

Ganzouri headed a cabinet from 1996 to 1999 that introduced some economic liberalization measures. 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.

As talk of a Ganzouri appointment filtered through the crowds packed into Tahrir Square, reactions were mixed. Some said his age made him a bad choice. Ganzouri is in his late 70s.

"Ganzouri is no good for this transitional period, which needs youth leaders, not grandparents," said student Maha Abdullah.

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."

In a communique, protesters called a million-man march on "the Friday of the last chance" to back demands for an immediate transfer to civilian rule via a national salvation government.

The 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.

The heads of two political parties who took part in a meeting with the military council on Tuesday said they now regretted attending and apologized to the protesters in Tahrir.

The demonstrations appear to have polarized Egyptians, many of whom worry unrest will prolong economic stagnation.

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.

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