Egyptian army chief promises to relinquish power after protests

UNDER fierce pressure from street protests in which 36 people have been killed, Egypt’s army chief promised to hand over to a civilian president by July and made a conditional offer for an immediate end to army rule.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow on 11 February, said the army did not want power.

“The army is ready to go back to barracks immediately if the people wish that through a popular referendum, if need be,” the 76-year-old said in a televised speech yesterday.

But demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, braving clouds of tear gas, derided the offer, calling the referendum a stalling tactic and chanting “Leave, leave.”

Tantawi said parliamentary polls would begin on time, starting this coming Monday, and that a presidential vote would take place in June, far sooner than the military’s previous plans of holding power until 2013.

The fresh unrest has knocked Egypt’s markets. The benchmark share index has fallen 11 per cent since Thursday, hitting its lowest level since March 2009. The Egyptian pound fell to its weakest against the dollar since January 2005.