- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

CAIRO | Egypt’s military leader promised to speed the transition to civilian rule, saying Tuesday that presidential elections will be held by the end of June.

But the major concession was immediately rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who responded with chants of “Leave, leave!” - meaning now.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi vowed that landmark parliamentary elections will start on schedule Monday, the first vote since longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in an uprising nine months ago.

And he said the military is prepared to hold a referendum on immediately transferring power to a civilian authority if people demand it.

Field Marshal Tantawi said he has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s civilian government.

Politicians who attended a five-hour crisis meeting with the ruling generals said the military intended to replace Mr. Sharaf’s Cabinet with a “national salvation” government.

It was not clear who might head the new Cabinet, but names of a couple of presidential hopefuls were mentioned.

“Our demands are clear,” said Khaled El-Sayed, a protester from the Youth Revolution Coalition and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election. “We want the military council to step down and hand over authority to a national salvation government with full authority.”

Mr. El-Sayed also demanded that the commander of the military police and the interior minister, who is in charge of the police, be tried for the “horrific crimes” of the past few days, when 29 people were killed in clashes, most of them in Cairo.

The standoff culminated four days of clashes and demonstrations across the country that have constituted the most sustained challenge so far to nine months of military rule.

It also plunges the country deeper into a crisis that may only hamper the democratic transition the protesters are fighting for.

In Tahrir Square, the atmosphere was reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak in February, with jubilation over the large turnout mixed with the seething anger directed at the military.

On Tuesday, the protesters had called for a million people to turn out and drew a massive crowd of tens of thousands.

The latest round of unrest began Saturday when security forces violently evicted a few hundred protesters who camped out in Tahrir.

The perceived use of excessive force angered activists, who began to flock to the square. A joint army and police attempt to clear the square Sunday evening failed, leaving protesters more determined to dig in there.

The clashes played out amid charges that the military was trying to cling to power after an elected parliament is seated and a new president elected.

The military recently proposed that a “guardianship” role for itself be enshrined in the next constitution and that it would enjoy immunity from any civilian oversight.

Further confusing the political situation, the military-backed civilian government on Monday submitted a mass resignation in response to the turmoil.

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