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New Egypt PM seeks to form cabinet amid charter row

Published: Updated:

Egypt’s interim authorities were on Wednesday to start talks on forming a cabinet but face tough hurdles as opponents and supporters alike of ousted president Mohammed Mursi slam a temporary charter aimed at steering the divided nation through a difficult transition.

The military’s ouster a week ago of Mursi, after massive protests calling for his resignation, pushed the country into a vortex of violence that has already claimed dozens of lives.

In the restive Sinai peninsula, two people were killed early Wednesday when militants struck several police and army positions with mortar rounds and rocket propelled grenades.

The fresh violence came less than a day after interim president Adly Mansour set a timetable for elections by early next year, and appointed Hazem al-Beblawi as prime minister and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president responsible for foreign affairs.

Cracks have emerged in the loose coalition that backed Mursi’s overthrow.

The National Salvation Front (NSF), the main coalition formerly led by ElBaradei, denounced Mansour’s decree and demanded amendments.

After initially announcing its “rejection” of the decree, it on Wednesday toned down its reaction, saying instead it “disagreed” with some of its provisions.

The Muslim Brotherhood had already rejected Mansour’s temporary charter as a decree enforced by “putschists.”

Beblawi, a former finance minister and economist, was on Wednesday to begin talks on forming his cabinet, the official MENA news agency said.

He would offer the Muslim Brotherhood posts in the new government, the agency quoted a presidential aide as saying.

But the Muslim Brotherhood spurned the overture. “We do not deal with putchists. We reject all that comes from this coup,” spokesman Tareq al-Morsi told AFP.

Standoff

The continued standoff with Mursi’s loyalists, who demand the reinstatement of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, has exacerbated fears of a continuation of the bloodshed that has marked the days since his overthrow.

In the worst incident since July 3, at least 51 people, most of them supporters of the ousted Islamist president, died in clashes outside military barracks in Cairo on Monday.

Amnesty International called for an “independent and impartial” investigation into the events after its findings suggested “the use of disproportionate force by the security forces.”

The latest deadly violence took place overnight in Sinai, where militants struck a police garrison with mortar rounds and heavy machine guns, security officials said, while two people were killed in a rocket propelled grenade attack on an army checkpoint according to medics.

Mansour must also deal with the frayed coalition that helped topple Mursi.

An official with one of the parties in the NSF told AFP that Mansour’s 33-article declaration foresees new “legislative, executive and judicial powers” for the interim president.

“You would look like a hypocrite now. It makes it look as if you are not against dictatorship, just against a dictatorship that is not from your group,” he said.

The official requested anonymity as his party prepared its own statement, amid apparent fissures in the NSF.

Many within the coalition are wary of repeating the mistakes of the last military led transition, between Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011 and Mursi’s election in June 2012.

“You don’t want to end up being the stooge of the army by signing off on a flawed roadmap,” said Michael Hanna, an Egypt expert with the US-based The Century Foundation think tank.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for an “uprising” to restore Mursi.

On the opposing end, Tamarod, the movement that spearheaded the grassroots campaign against Mursi, complained that it had not been consulted on the transition plan announced by Mansour and would also make proposals for changes to the blueprint.

But the army warned it would brook no disruption to what it acknowledged would be a “difficult” transition.

The blueprint unveiled by Mansour is intended to replace the controversial Islamist-drafted constitution, suspended on Mursi’s ouster, and put a new charter to referendum.

Parliamentary elections will then take place by early 2014 and Mansour will announce a date for a presidential election once the new parliament has convened.

The U.S., which provides $1.5 billion in mainly military aid to Egypt, said it was “cautiously encouraged” by the timetable proposed for a new presidential election.

Mursi’s single year of turbulent rule was marked by accusations he failed the 2011 revolution that ousted veteran strongman Mubarak by concentrating power in Islamist hands and letting the economy nosedive.