Cairo protests intensify as new PM named

TENS of thousands of Egyptians demanding an end to military rule packed Cairo’s Tahrir square in the biggest turnout of a week of protests and violence that has killed 41 people.

The military rulers named a veteran former prime minister to head a new civilian cabinet, but that did little to appease the demonstrators who poured scorn on a name from the past.

The United States, long a bedrock supporter of Egypt’s military, called on the generals to step aside “as soon as possible” and give real power to the new cabinet “immediately.”

Protesters accuse the military of clinging to power since it took over when an uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak on February 11. The past week of street battles between demonstrators and police have looked like a replay of February’s unrest.

Kamal Ganzouri, named by the ruling army council to head a national salvation cabinet, said his powers were stronger than those given to previous prime ministers, but gave no details.

“I have asked the Field Marshal to give me a little time so I can form a cabinet that will satisfy the entire people,” the veteran economist told a news conference, referring to army chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

He said the new government would not be announced before Monday, the date set for Egypt’s first free parliamentary election in decades, which could be overshadowed if the violence of the past week continues.

Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999. He was appointed after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet resigned this week amid the protests.

Protesters responded angrily to the naming of a Mubarak-era veteran. After his appointment was confirmed, crowds in Tahrir chanted in derision: “They brought a thief and appointed another thief,” referring to Sharaf and Ganzouri.

Hundreds of protesters shouted “Ganzouri, we don’t want you” outside the cabinet offices in central Cairo.

The military rulers have promised a faster transfer of power to a civilian president, now due to be elected in June, and say the parliamentary elections will go ahead as planned.

Until a truce calmed violence on Thursday, streets around Tahrir had become battle zones with stone-throwing protesters fighting police firing tear gas, pellets and rubber bullets, a repeat of the scenes that forced Mubarak from office.

Protesters called for a million-man march on what they dubbed “the Friday of the last chance.” A steady stream of men, women and children surged into Tahrir before weekly Muslim prayers, often the day of the biggest demonstrations of this year’s “Arab Spring” uprisings across the region.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government ignored Arab powers’ moves to halt its crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising yesterday and more opposition supporters and military personnel were killed in unrelenting violence.

The Syrian military said 10 personnel, including six pilots, were killed in an attack on an air force base and that the incident proved foreign involvement in the eight-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Government forces shot dead at least four demonstrators in the capital Damascus who were appealing for foreign intervention to stop the crackdown, activists said. Two other civilians were killed in raids on their homes, they claimed.

Earlier, a deadline set by the Arab League for Syria to sign a deal allowing peace monitors into the country expired without any government response. Turkey said it could no longer tolerate any more bloodshed.

More than 3,500 people are estimated by the United Nations to have been killed since March.

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