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Tension escalates in Cairo as military council rules out any Cabinet reshuffle

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A state of cautious calmness dominated al-Khalifa al-Maamoun street, near the headquarters of the Defense Ministry in Cairo, following overnight clashes, an Egyptian daily reported on Tuesday, as the army rulers denied their intention to make any cabinet reshuffle within the coming days.

Assailants clashed with demonstrators for the third consecutive night near the Defense Ministry, during which petrol bombs and firing buckshot and stones were used, Egypt’s al-Youm al-Sabea reported.

They were attacked by Abbassiya residents, according to the official MENA news agency.

Neither army troops nor police attempted to stop the street battles which broke up on Saturday night, witnesses said. One person was killed and 119 others were injured during Saturday’s clashes.

Many of those outside the Defense Ministry were supporters of an ultraconservative Islamist angered by his disqualification from running in this month’s presidential election.

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail was thrown out of the race because officials ruled his late mother had dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship in violation of eligibility rules.

Security officials said the dead protester was one of Abu Ismail’s supporters. Hospital officials said he died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Demonstrations in Egypt have frequently been attacked by unidentified assailants, particularly protests which are near or outside the Defense Ministry. Rights and pro-democracy activists have blamed the attacks on undercover police, petty criminals on the police payroll, plainclothes army soldiers or supporters of the ousted Mubarak regime.

Mubarak-era generals took over the reins of power when their patron stepped down in February last year. Opposition to their rule has built up after they were blamed for killing protesters, jailing critics and putting at least 10,000 civilians on trial before military tribunals.

They have also launched a systematic campaign to undermine the youth groups credited with Mubarak’s stunning ouster, using the state media to portray them as irresponsible and linked to foreign powers.

“Crushing peaceful demonstrations, whether we agree with them or not, is a continuation of a regime that has not been removed yet,” Egypt’s top reform leader Mohammed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. “Will we this time see those involved in violence brought to account whether they from inside or outside the regime?”

The first round of the presidential election is scheduled for May 23 and 24, and the interim military leadership has promised to hand power to an elected civilian president by the end of June.

Meanwhile, Local Development and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mohammed Attiya confirmed to Egypt’s al-Hayat TV on Monday that there would be no cabinet reshuffle.

He said Parliament has no right to withdraw confidence from the government of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri or change any of his ministers.

Attiya’s statements came after Parliament Speaker Saad al-Katatny said on Sunday that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will announce a reshuffle within 48 hours, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm reported.

Prior to that, Katatny suspended sessions until next Sunday, in protest against the government whose briefing Parliament recently rejected.

Earlier on Monday, SCAF senior member Maj. Gen. Mohsen al-Fangary denied the intention of making any cabinet reshuffle within the coming days, al-Youm al-Sabea reported.

Fangary added that whoever gave the statements, referring to Parliament speaker Katatny, is responsible for it and whoever suspended the Parliament sessions is also responsible for it.

The majority Freedom and Justice Party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood group -- had requested that it form a new coalition government, but party officials said the SCAF declined this request.


(Writing and translation by Abeer Tayel)