Egyptians extend protest, dismiss army, PM pledges



Cairo: More than 1,000 Egyptians extended a protest in central Cairo to a fifth day on Tuesday after dismissing the prime minister's pledge to reshuffle the cabinet as falling short of demands for swifter reforms.

An army statement repeating its commitment to hand power to civilians after the transition and backing the prime minister in his work also drew criticism for offering nothing new.

"The military council is following the same policies as the ousted regime," said Mohamed Abdel Waged, 43, a teacher who has camped for several nights in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Egyptians have been protesting since Friday in Tahrir, the heart of Egypt's uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February. They have also gathered in coastal cities of Alexandria and Suez.

Friday's demonstration included tens of thousands. Activists have urged more protesters to join in later on Tuesday.

The protests and threat of escalation has hit the Egyptian stock market, where the benchmark index was down 3.4 percent in the middle of Tuesday's trading session.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf promised on Monday to reshuffle his cabinet in a week, aiming to placate protesters who say the government and the military rulers have not delivered on demands for reforms and have been slow to try Mubarak and his allies.

The army issued a statement read on television repeating its pledge to hand power back to civilians after elections and pledging its "continuing support for the prime minister assuming all powers given by the constitution and laws."

It also said it remained committed to dialogue with political groups and activists.

Dozens of demonstrators in Alexandria, where protests have also been staged, chanted slogans against Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defense minister for two decades and now leads the military council.

"Field Marshal, why are you afraid of a purge," they chanted, while others said: "Sharaf, Sharaf go resign and kiss the Field Marshal's hands."

Mohamed Adel, a protester in Cairo's Tahrir and a senior leader in Egypt's April Six Youth group, dismissed Sharaf's statements for lacking guarantees of change or detail.

"The prime minister did not say which ministers will leave or who will replace them," he said.

"We still ask for an end to the trying of civilians in military courts and the independence of the judiciary system and those demands have not yet been met," Adel said, adding that protesters wanted to army promise to implement demands.

Sharaf had earlier asked Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy to speed up measures to restore security in Egypt, reshuffle provincial governors to meets public aspirations and asked judges to make the former officials' trials public.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized political group, that joined Friday's protest said it would not continue.

"The group has suspended its participation after Friday but I think it will issue a statement later today or tomorrow explaining its reaction to the prime minister's speech," said Walid Shalaby, the group's media coordinator.

Bureau Report