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Egypt's military rulers dissolve parliament

CAIRO

Egypt's military rulers took sweeping action to dismantle the autocratic legacy of former President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday, dissolving Parliament, suspending the constitution and promising elections as early as six months from now in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters.

They also met with representatives of the broad-based youth movement that brought down the government after an 18-day uprising that transfixed the world.

The caretaker government, backed by the military, said restoring security was a top priority even as labor unrest reflected one of the many challenges of steering the Arab world's biggest nation toward stability and democracy.

The 18-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has issued a stream of communiques since taking power, said parliamentary and presidential elections will be held, but did not set a timetable. It said it will run the country for six months, or until elections can be held.

On Sunday, prominent activist Wael Ghonim posted on a Facebook page he manages notes from a meeting between members of the military council and youth representatives, which he described as encouraging.

The military defended the caretaker government, stocked with Mubarak loyalists, as necessary for now in the interests of stability but pledged to soon change it, said Ghonim and another protester, Amr Salama, in the statement.

"They said they will go after corrupt people no matter what their position current or previous," the statement added.

Amendments to the much reviled constitution will be prepared by an independent committee over the next 10 days and then presented for approval in a popular referendum to be held in two months, they said.

The military also encouraged the youth to consider forming political parties — something very difficult to do under the old system — and pledged to meet with them regularly.

"We felt a sincere desire to protect the gains of the revolution and an unprecedented respect for the right of young Egyptians to express their opinions," Ghonim said.

Even amid the efforts to build a new system, Egypt's upheaval has splintered into a host of smaller grievances, the inevitable outcome of emboldened citizens feeling free to speak up, most for the first time.

They even included about 2,000 police, widely hated for brutality and corruption under Mubarak, who marched to the Interior Ministry to demand better pay and conditions. They passed through the protest camp at Tahrir Square, where demonstrators hurled insults, calling them "pigs" and "dogs."

Egypt's state news agency announced banks would be closed today due to strikes and again Tuesday for a public holiday. Dozens of employees protested against alleged corruption at the state television building, which broadcast pro-Mubarak messages during the massive demonstrations against his rule.

The caretaker government met for the first time, and employees removed a huge framed photograph of Mubarak from the meeting room before they convened.

The crowds in the protest encampment that became a symbol of defiance against the government thinned out Sunday — the first working day since the regime fell. Traffic flowed through downtown area for the first time in weeks. Troops cleared most of the makeshift tents and scuffled with holdout activists.

The protesters have been pressing the ruling military council, led by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, to immediately move forward with the transition by appointing a presidential council, dissolving Parliament and releasing political prisoners. Thousands have remained in Tahrir Square and some want to keep up the pressure for immediate steps, including repeal of repressive emergency laws that give police broad power.

The military council allayed some concerns by dismissing the legislature, packed with Mubarak loyalists, and sidelining the constitution, used by Mubarak to buttress his rule. Activists said they would closely watch the military to ensure it does not abuse its unchecked power — something that is clearly starting to make some uneasy.

The council "believes that human freedom, the rule of law, support for the value of equality, pluralistic democracy, social justice, and the uprooting of corruption are the bases for the legitimacy of any system of governance that will lead the country in the upcoming period," the council said in a statement.

"They have definitely started to offer us what we wanted," said activist Sally Touma, who also wants the release of political prisoners and repeal of an emergency law that grants wide powers to police.

The military council said it will represent Egypt in all internal and external affairs and proclaimed the right to set temporary laws. It was expected to clarify the scope of its legal authority as the complex transition unfolds and the role of the judiciary remains unclear.

It said it was forming a committee to amend the constitution and set rules for a popular referendum to endorse the amendments.

Protesters are demanding that the constitution be amended to impose term limits on the president, open up competition for the presidency and remove restrictions on creating political parties. Others want an entirely new constitution.

Egypt's military rulers dissolve parliament 02/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 14, 2011 1:34am]

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