Protests continue in Cairo

 

Protesters gathered again in Cairo's Tahrir Square today to try to evict the generals who replaced Hosni Mubarak, in a trial of strength that has muddied the run-up to Egypt's first vote since a popular revolt deposed the former leader.

The parliamentary election that begins tomorrow is the first step on the ruling military council's timetable toward a transfer to civilian rule, now promised for July.

But the demonstrators want the council to step aside now in favour of a civilian interim administration and reject its choice of 78-year-old Kamal Ganzouri to form the next cabinet.

Other Egyptians yearn for stability after a week of bloodshed that has killed 42 people and wounded over 2,000, preferring for now to let the generals run a nation whose political turmoil has thrust the economy deeper into crisis.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the council, said the army would ensure security at the polling booths and reiterated that the vote would go ahead on schedule.

"We are at a crossroads. There are only two routes, the success of elections leading Egypt toward safety or facing dangerous hurdles that we in the armed forces, as part of the Egyptian people, will not allow," he said in comments carried by the website of state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.

The generals have received tacit support from Islamists anxious that nothing disrupt two days of voting in the first of three rounds of an election in which they expect to do well.

Alarmed by Egypt's latest bout of unrest, the United States and the European Union have condemned the "excessive force" used by the authorities and urged a swift handover to civilian rule.

Some protesters favour Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, who has offered to drop his campaign for the presidency and to lead a government of national unity.

MR ElBaradei is respected among pro-democracy campaigners and has a high international profile, but many Egyptians view him as out of touch because he spent much of his career abroad.

There was no sign that the generals would change course, although the latest unrest has already forced them accelerate plans to hand over to civilian rule.