Egypt Military Ruler Commits to Democracy

Egypt's military ruler on Saturday stressed the army's commitment to democracy, as protesters kept up pressure on the general over the slow pace of reforms since a revolt ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Mubarak's longtime defense minister, pledged to work for a free system through fair elections and a constitution.

He vowed to "pave the way for the pillars of a democratic state, which promotes freedom, the rights of citizens through free and fair parliamentary elections, a new constitution and the election of a president chosen by the people."

Tantawi delivered the television address to mark the anniversary of the 1952 revolution -- a military coup that overthrew the monarchy, which came six months after the January 25 uprising that ended Mubarak's 30-year grip on power.

Hours earlier, the military council had accused the April 6 pro-democracy movement of sowing strife after hundreds tried to march to the defense ministry.

In Cairo, hundreds of them left Tahrir Square and headed to the defense ministry, the headquarters of the council, to denounce the army's handling of the transition.

They were blocked off by hundreds of military police and armored vehicles, who closed off large parts of the capital's center, a security official said.

The military rulers accused the movement, which helped launch the uprising that toppled Mubarak, of "driving a wedge between the people and the army."

It was the first time a group has been singled out by the military, which called on "the people to exercise vigilance and not to be drawn into this suspicious plot which aims to undermine Egypt's stability."

Despite Mubarak's spectacular downfall, protesters have continued to take to the street to denounce the military council over the slow pace of reform.

The military has also come under fire for alleged rights abuses and for using Mubarak era tactics to stifle dissent.

Protesters have been camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of protests that toppled Mubarak -- since July 8 and have vowed to continue until their demands are met.

Among their key demands are the trial of former regime officials, the end of military trials of civilians, the purge of Mubarak officials from senior government posts and the redistribution of wealth.

New ministers were sworn in on Thursday, in a move Prime Minister Essam Sharaf hoped would placate the protesters.

But the line-up was rejected as cosmetic because it left ministers hired by Mubarak in government.

It was the second cabinet to take office in the face of protests since Mubarak stepped down on February 11.

The former president is under arrest on murder and corruption charges in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is undergoing treatment for a heart condition.

Source: Agence France Presse

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