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Egypt’s army ready to hold referendum on immediate power transfer

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Egypt’s Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi said the ruling military council is ready to hold a referendum on immediate transfer of power to a civilian administration and vowed that the planned Nov. 28 elections would go ahead as planned.

Tantawi said the army was “completely ready to hand over responsibility immediately, and to return to its original mission of protecting the nation if the nation wants that, via a popular referendum, if need be.”

Tantawi, who took power when former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted, also said in a televised address that he had accepted the cabinet's resignation.

“The armed forces, represented by their Supreme Council, do not aspire to govern and put the supreme interest of the country above all considerations,” Tantawi added.

But the concessions were immediately rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square threatening a “Second revolution.”

Abdulrahman al-Zaghimy, in the collation of youth revolution, told Al Arabiya that Tantawi’s speech came too late, adding that the protesters would continue their sit-in at Tahrir Square until the departure of the military council.

The military council had earlier met with politicians to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet and to replace it with a national salvation government.

The military also agreed to hold presidential elections before the end of June 2012, a vote the ruling council has deemed the final stage necessary for the transfer of power.

“We agreed on July as the month to transfer power to a civilian president,” one participant, Emad Abdel Ghafour, head of the Salafi Islamist Nour (Light) Party, told Reuters.

Aboul-Ela Madi and Mohammed Selim el-Awa, two politicians who attended a five-hour crisis meeting with the military rulers, said the generals accepted the resignation of Sharaf’s government and would form a “national salvation” Cabinet to replace it.

Previously, the military rulers had floated late next year or early 2013 as the timetable for transferring power.

The military’s concession came less than a week before the first parliamentary election since the ouster nine months ago of longtime authoritarian ruler Mubarak. The elections are staggered over a three month period.

“We are not leaving, he leaves,” chanted the protesters, demanding that Tantawi and his council of generals immediately give up power to a civilian transitional authority.

“The people want to bring down the field marshal,” they shouted in scenes starkly reminiscent of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.

“Our demands are clear. We want the military council to step down and hand over authority to a national salvation government with full authority,” said Khaled el-Sayed, a member of the Youth Revolution Coalition and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election.

“The commander of the Military Police and the Interior Minister, who is in charge of the police, must be tried for the “horrific crimes” of the past few days, he added.

“This is the maximum we can reach. The (Tahrir) square is something and politics is something else,” Madi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He and Al-Awa were among 12 political party representatives and presidential hopefuls who attended the meeting with the military council. Not all parties were represented.

Madi and el-Awa also said the military agreed to release all protesters detained since Saturday and to put on trial police and army officers responsible for protesters’ deaths. Nearly 30 protesters have been killed since Saturday.