Keeping anarchy at bay? Egypt's ruling Military Council announced Tuesday that it has set the presidential elections for June.
The announcement was made amid growing civil unrest and rumors that the Council may relinquish power in favor of Cairo's Supreme Court.
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Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that has ruled Egypt since a popular uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign on February 11, is expected to make an official announcement to that effect later on Tuesday.
The announcement comes as tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered at Tahrir Square for a mass demonstration Tuesday while fresh clashes broke out elsewhere in Cairo as protests demanding the country's military rulers step down entered a fourth day.
Egyptian media reported that Farouk Sultan, chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, had cut short his visit to Turkey and is making his way back to Cairo.
Upon stepping down, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharif said: "The Ministry responded to the people's demands, and submitted its resignation.
"Today, I ask everyone to take this country into account; to leave, calm the situation down because we are willing to do anything for the sake of this country, and you must be willing to as well because who will benefit from these events? All I ask of people is that they leave, calm down, we have already responded to what they wanted and it will be implemented, God willing.
"We were so close to our main goal which is the elections; this is what is important, this political shift. So again I ask that people protect Egypt in this stage," he said.
Clashing with security forces (Photo: AP)
Security forces stayed away from Tahrir Square since Monday to avoid confrontations after several failed efforts to clear the area in downtown Cairo turned violent; but clashes broke out in streets connecting Tahrir Square to police headquarters, with black-clad security forces backed by military troops firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets to block groups of angry young men, who responded by hurling stones and fire bombs.
The two sides have been engaged in intense clashes since the unrest began on Saturday with protesters trying to force out the generals who have failed to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy more than nine months after taking the reins from Mubarak.
Three foreigners were arrested after they were seen throwing fire bombs at security forces from the roof of a building belonging to the American University near Tahrir Square, an Interior Ministry official said. The official did not give the nationalities of the three men.
An airport official also said a US citizen who had been arrested while allegedly filming security forces at Tahrir Square was deported Tuesday to the United Arab Emirates from which he had arrived.
'People can't eat'
Hundreds of protesters arrived early Tuesday to join several thousand who have been camping in the square. The crowds hoisted a giant Egyptian flag and chanted slogans demanding the generals immediately step down in favor of a presidential civilian council.
In many ways, the protests bear a striking resemblance to the 18-day uprising beginning Jan. 25 that toppled Mubarak. The chants are identical, except that military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's name has replaced Mubarak's.
"The goal is to get rid of the government. They're still stealing and people can't eat," said protester Raed Said, 23, as he walked with an arm around his friend who was choking from the tear gas. "The field marshal has to leave because he's trying to protect Mubarak and doesn't want to try him, so he has to go."
Tahrir Square (Photo: AP)
Amnesty International harshly criticized the military rulers in a new report, saying they have "completely failed to live up their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights."
The London-based group documented steps by the military that have fallen short of increasing human rights and in some cases have made matters worse than under Mubarak.
"The euphoria of the uprising has been replaced by fears that one repressive rule has simply been replaced with another," according to the report, issued early Tuesday.
The report called for repeal of the Mubarak-era "emergency laws," expanded to cover "thuggery" and criticizing the military. It said the army has placed arbitrary restrictions on media and other outlets.
Egyptian security forces have continued to use torture against demonstrators, the report said, and some 12,000 civilians have been tried in military trials, which it called "unfair."
A military spokesman, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that the military has set up barbed wire and barricades around the security headquarters to prevent protesters from storming the building. "We are only here to protect the interior ministry," he said.
Army officers and soldiers had been forbidden to enter Tahrir Square, he added.
The unrest also had an immediate impact on Egypt's economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism and had not fully recovered from the effect of the January revolution. The stock exchange temporarily suspended trading after the broader EGX100 index slumped 5 percent.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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