Protests draw concessions from Egypt army rulers

Army council agrees to hand over to civilian president by July, form salvation gov't to steer transition; protesters hang Tantawi effigy in Cairo, clash with security forces.

Egypt Tahrir Square million-man_311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt Tahrir Square million-man_311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - Egypt's ruling generals offered on Tuesday to transfer power to a civilian president by July in a dramatic attempt to placate protesters and defuse a political crisis that has jolted plans for the country's first free election in decades.
The military council, in power since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown on Feb. 11, also agreed at a meeting with politicians to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet and to replace it with a national salvation government within days to steer Egypt to civilian rule.
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"We agreed on July as the month to transfer power to a civilian president," one participant, Emad Abdel Ghafour, head of the Salafi Islamist Nour (Light) Party, told Reuters.
He said a president would be elected in June ahead of a power transfer in July. Under the previous army timetable, the vote might not have taken place until late 2012 or early 2013.
Anger against the military council exploded this month after a cabinet proposal to set out constitutional principles that would permanently shield the army from civilian oversight.
Protester runs from tear gas in clashes with riot police (Reuters)Protester runs from tear gas in clashes with riot police (Reuters)
Ghafour and other politicians at the meeting said parliamentary elections would start as planned on Monday.
The concessions have been wrenched from the military by five days of protests against army rule in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere amid violence that has cost at least 36 lives.
It seemed doubtful if they would satisfy the demonstrators, who again braved clouds of tear gas to converge on Tahrir Square to demand that the generals relinquish power immediately.
Fahmy Ali, one protester in Tahrir Square, said the concessions did not go far enough. "We demand a full purge of the system and the removal of the military council," he told Reuters.
Protesters earlier hanged from a lamp post an effigy of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the 76-year-old army chief who served as Mubarak's defense minister for two decades.
A protester looks on as riot police throw stones during clashes near Tahrir Square (Reuters)A protester looks on as riot police throw stones during clashes near Tahrir Square (Reuters)
Ahmed Shouman, an army major who gained fame as the first officer to join protests against Mubarak, returned to Tahrir to join the demonstrations. Ecstatic protesters carried him on their shoulders. Shouman was acquitted in a military court after his defection in February, but was suspended from service.
About 5,000 people also marched in the port city of Alexandria to join 2,000 already demonstrating against army rule outside a military command headquarters, witnesses said.
The unrest has knocked Egypt's markets. The benchmark share index has fallen 11 percent since Thursday, hitting its lowest level since March 2009. The Egyptian pound fell to its weakest against the dollar since January 2005.
In a stinging verdict on nine months of army control, rights group Amnesty International accused the military council of brutality sometimes exceeding that of Mubarak.