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Monday, 21 November 2011

Egypt cabinet resigns as thousands swell Cairo protests

Egypt cabinet resigns as thousands swell Cairo protests

Thousands of Egyptians are continuing to swell the ranks of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, despite appeals to disperse by military authorities.

Meanwhile, Egypt's cabinet has offered its resignation to the ruling military council, state media report.

More than 20 people have died in three days of clashes sparked by protests against Egypt's military government.

Egyptian activist groups are demanding the ruling military council hand power to a civilian government.

State media said the council was considering whether to accept the cabinet's resignation. No explanation was given for the move.

"The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has handed its resignation to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," cabinet spokesman Mohammed Hegazy said in a statement carried by the official Mena news agency.

"Owing to the difficult circumstances the country is going through, the government will continue working."

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the issue now for the military is whether it is prepared to appoint a new cabinet and give its members greater powers.

As night fell in Cairo, thousands more flocked to the symbolic square - the focal point of protests that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February.

Elections are due to begin across Egypt next week but many Egyptians fear the military plans to hold on to the reins of power, whatever the outcome.

Late on Monday, a coalition of political groups - including followers of opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei - accused the military council of leading a "counter-revolution".

They called for a mass demonstration in Tahrir Square on Tuesday.

They also demanded a presidential election be held by April 2012.

As the violence and tension escalated the US called for restraint on all sides.

"We're deeply concerned about the violence," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Earlier on Monday protesters set up burning barricades in and around the square and threw stones at riot police and troops.

Security forces responded with batons, tear gas and birdshot. Ambulances raced through the crowds ferrying the injured to hospital.

Officials confirmed on Monday that more than 20 people had been killed and about 1,800 injured since Saturday.

One of the protesters in Cairo, Ahmed Imam, 33, said handing power to the military after the overthrow of Mr Mubarak had been a mistake.

"We should not have left the streets. We handed power to the military on a silver platter," he said.

"The revolutionaries went home too soon. We collected the spoils and left before the battle was over."

Culture minister Emad Abu Ghazi resigned in protest at the government response and 25 Egyptian political parties called for the ministers of information and the interior to be sacked over the violence.

A group of senior Egyptian diplomats also condemned the way the protests have been handled, reports the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.

A statement signed by more than 109 ambassadors and other diplomats called for violence and aggression by security forces against protesters to be halted immediately, and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The statement said a full hand-over of power to a civilian government should be completed by the middle of next year.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, is charged with overseeing the country's transition to democracy after three decades of autocratic rule under ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League and now a presidential candidate in Egypt, told the BBC World Service that the use of force against the protesters could not be justified.

"The way the police deals with the protesters... we're all against this kind of violence and this treatment of the people," he said.

Trouble started on Saturday after demonstrations against proposed constitutional changes unveiled by the interim government.

The military council produced a draft document setting out principles for a new constitution, under which the military and its budget could be exempted from civilian oversight.

A proposal by the military to delay the presidential election until late 2012 or early 2013 has further angered the opposition.

Protesters want the presidential vote to take place after parliamentary elections, which begin on 28 November and will be staggered over the next three months.

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