Thousands in Tahrir despite military vow of rapid handover

Thousands in Tahrir despite military vow of rapid handover

Thousands of people gathered in central Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday demanding an end to military rule, despite promises that presidential elections will be held by the middle of 2012, dpa reported.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said that presidential elections are to be held by the end of June next year.

He also said that the council accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and that a new government will be formed soon. The members of Sharaf's cabinet are to keep their posts until the new government is announced.

"The armed forces have been patient in dealing with multiple attempts to smear its reputation and patriotism over the last few months," Tantawi said in a televised speech.

"We are not interested in holding onto power," he added, as he confirmed that parliamentary elections, set to begin next Monday, will be held on time.

He ended his address by saying that "the armed forces do not seek power ... and are ready to leave power immediately through (the) holding (of) a popular referendum if necessary."

Thousands of people poured into Tahrir Square, which was the epicentre of a popular uprising that forced former president Hosny Mubarak out of power earlier this year. They demanded an end to military rule and to the violence that has gripped the country for four days.

"The army is doing a counter-revolution against the revolution we started in January," Ahmad Ali, 22, told dpa.

"We are asking for a representative parliament and transition to a civil state," said Ali, who was breathing heavily and could barely speak due to tear gas fired by the police.

The mass rally came after days of clashes between demonstrators and security forces that have left at least 35 people dead, according to medics and rights advocates. Government officials put the death toll at 28.

Protesters were angered by the speech, saying it fell short of meeting their demands. The crowd began to chant "Leave" and "The people want to overthrown the Field Marshal," in reference to Tantawi.

Protesters also began to fight with security forces located outside the square protecting the Interior Ministry.

The April 6 Youth Movement said that it will begin a sit-in, lasting until the ruling military council hands over power to a civilian presidential council.

"The volatile situation now urges us all to unite and forget our political or intellectual affiliations and uphold the interest of the country," the movement said.

They said the presidential council should include three presidential hopefuls - Mohamed ElBaradei, Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail - as well as a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and prominent judge Zakariya Abdel Aziz.

Over the past four days, police forces fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the protesters gathered in Tahrir.

Witnesses said that ambulances were coming back and forth to Tahrir well after sunset to take the injured to hospitals. Dozens were being cared for by doctors in makeshift hospitals in the square.

"Everyone who comes here cares for Egypt, we are all in it together. Even though Mubarak has left, the army is still hitting and killing the people," said Marwa Abdel Al, a pharmacist and volunteer helping injured protesters.

Protesters also took to the streets in the coastal city of Alexandria and in other provinces across Egypt.

In the north-eastern city of Ismailiya, overnight clashes killed three people and injured at least 60 others, official media reported.

Some 38 opposition groups called for Tuesday's rally. The influential Muslim Brotherhood did not officially take part, although some of its members did.

The Islamist group instead took part in a meeting called by the military rulers with other political forces.

Tantawi's speech was given shortly after the meeting ended.

"The only way out of the crisis is by meeting the just demands of the demonstrators, holding parliamentary elections on time and setting a timetable for transferring power by mid-2012," the Freedom and Justice Party, the brotherhood's political wing, said in a statement.

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