By Jailan Zayan /AFP
CAIRO: Egyptians are being urged to rally en masse on Tuesday to demand an end to military rule after days of bloody clashes that are threatening to derail next week’s first elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
A day after the cabinet offered to resign, in a move reportedly rejected by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, another two people were killed, bringing the death toll from clashes since Saturday to 26.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and called for democratic elections, as watchdog Amnesty International charged the SCAF’s record on human rights was worse than the Mubarak regime.
On the eve of the new protest, Egypt’s military-appointed cabinet of civilian officials announced its resignation, but state television quoted a SCAF source as saying this was rejected by the military.
“The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has handed its resignation to the (ruling) Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” cabinet spokesman Mohamed Hegazy said in a statement Monday.
The SCAF “invited all the political and national forces for an emergency dialogue to look into the reasons behind the aggravation of the current crisis and ways to resolve it as quickly as possible,” it said, quoted by state media.
It said it had asked the justice ministry to set up a committee to probe the violence, and called on “all forces and citizens to commit to (restoring) calm, and creating an atmosphere of stability with the goal of pursuing the political process.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best-organized political force, said Tuesday it would take part in the talks with the army.
The Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party said earlier it would not participate in Tuesday’s protest, a decision it said stemmed from its “desire not to pull people towards fresh bloody confrontations with the parties that are seeking more tension.”
Tuesday’s mass rally to demand the army cede power was called by the political forces that spearheaded the popular uprising that forced Mubarak out of office in February.
Activists from the Coalition of Revolution Youth and the April 6 Movement, among others, have called for the protest at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak rallies.
In a Facebook page for the rally, the groups called for the immediate resignation of Sharaf’s cabinet and the formation of a “national salvation” government.
They also demanded a presidential election by April 2012 and a complete overhaul of the interior ministry.
The military is also coming under increasing pressure to halt the violence from abroad, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying it was important that US ally Egypt move toward democratic elections.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed the White House call for “free, fair elections,” and expressed the hope the electoral process would remain on schedule.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon called on the military council to “guarantee” civil liberties as he deplored the deaths in the clashes.
“The secretary general is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt during the last few days, particularly in Cairo. He deplores the loss of life and the many injuries,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.
“The secretary general calls on the transitional authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights and civil liberties for all Egyptians, including the right to peaceful protest.”
Tens of thousands of people had packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday night, after clashes continued for a third straight day between protesters and police in and around the square.
They greeted news of the cabinet’s resignation with indifference, calling for the removal of the military rulers as clashes continued on Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
Riot police fired volleys of birdshot, rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators who used stones and petrol bombs. Other protesters formed a corridor through which the injured were ferried into waiting ambulances.
Two people were killed early on Tuesday in the Red Sea town of Ismailiya, medics said, as state media reported that clashes also erupted in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
Hundreds have been injured during the protests that have raged in Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailiya and the canal city of Suez.
Culture minister Emad Abu Ghazi earlier quit in protest at the government response to the demonstrations, he told state news agency MENA.
The clashes first erupted on Saturday, a day after large crowds staged a peaceful anti-military mass rally at the square, resuming on Sunday and carrying on through the night into Monday.
There were heavy clashes on side streets leading towards the interior ministry as protesters chanted “The people want to topple the field marshal” — Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s long-time defense minister who heads the SCAF.
The SCAF, in a statement read out on state television, said it “regretted” what was happening and said it was committed to the elections timetable.