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Egypt's army demands end to strikes; opposition vows to push for change

Ruling council says it will run the country for six months or until elections are held; tensions flare as military evicts protesters in Tahrir Square.

The parliament disbanded by the military had been a rubber-stamp body dominated by ruling-party members who prevailed in rigged November elections. The constitution had also been skewed heavily in favor of Mubarak's regime.

Opposition figures praised the moves as important first steps toward free elections but urged further measures to sweep away the old guard. Some expressed alarm at efforts to clear Cairo's Tahrir Square of remaining protesters. Some criticized a decision by the military rulers to leave Mubarak's cabinet in place.

"By no means can they concentrate on fixing the problems and investigating what happened under the former regime, because they are the ones responsible," said Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian novelist and democracy activist.

It remains far from clear how quickly elections might be held in Egypt. The well-organized Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned under Mubarak, has pressed for speedy elections. Some democracy activists have said that it might take much longer than six months to prepare the ground for a fair contest.

On Sunday, about 500 police officers, demanding higher wages, marched through Tahrir Square and blocked the entrance to the Interior Ministry. Workers at state banks held sit-ins, forcing Egypt's central bank to declare Monday a bank holiday. The antiquities-rich Egyptian Museum reported that two statues of King Tutankhamen and 16 other artworks had been looted.

"Our concern now is security, to bring security back to the Egyptian citizen," Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said after presiding over a meeting of the caretaker cabinet. "That sense has been lost since the beginning of the events. It's been coming back, but not as quickly as we hoped."

Before the session, workers removed a huge portrait of Mubarak that had kept watch over the meeting room.

Unlike the police and other domestic security forces that Mubarak used to brutalize his political foes, the armed forces are seen by many Egyptians as their protectors and saviors. The military permitted the protests to unfold peacefully during the 18-day revolution. Many soldiers and officers made clear that their sympathies lay with the people.

For the near term, at least, the man running the country is Tantawi, 75, a close ally of Mubarak's who served under him as defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces. The military council's communique said Tantawi would function as Egypt's head of state in international relations.

Retired military officers and analysts described Tantawi as pragmatic and conservative, with no visible political aspirations. They said he has the support of other senior commanders, including Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, the armed forces' chief of staff.

"Tantawi does not have ambitions to run for president. No one in the supreme council has that wish," said Hosam Sowilam, a retired major general and former military college classmate of Tantawi's. "We are military people. We don't want to indulge in any political matters. We want to only participate in defending our territory and preserving the independence and stability of the country."

Over the years, Tantawi has kept close ties with U.S. government and military officials. "He understands the importance of this relationship," said Mohamed Kadry Said, a former major general who is an analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.


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