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  • Egypt’s cabinet resigns, army council seeking new prime minister

    Egypt’s cabinet said on Monday it had resigned, as clashes raged for a third day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, pitting police and soldiers against protesters demanding democratic change.

    “The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has handed its resignation to the (ruling) Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” cabinet spokesman Mohammed Hegazy said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.

    “Owing to the difficult circumstances the country is going through, the government will continue working” until the resignation is accepted, he said.

    The government expressed “deep regret over the painful events, and based on this it handed its resignation (on Sunday) to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).”

    State television quoted a military source as saying the ruling military council had rejected the resignation, but Information Minister Osama Heikal told MENA the matter had not yet been decided.

    Sharaf's resignation, if accepted, threatens to derail parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28 -- the first polls since Mubarak was toppled in February.

    But the military council is seeking agreement on a new prime minister before it accepts Sharaf’s resignation, a military source told Reuter.

    The source said no formal announcement would be made until the ruling military council had agreed on the candidate. He did not provide further details.

    Sharaf’s resignation, if accepted, threatens to derail parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28 –the first polls since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February.

    Sharaf was appointed in March to massive nationwide support, but the same protesters who carried him on their shoulders in Tahrir Square to celebrate his nomination gradually turned into his fiercest critics, slamming his weakness in the face of the SCAF.

    He ignored numerous calls for his resignation in recent months, saying while his resignation would turn him into “a national hero,” he would stick to the job in order to fulfill the goals of the revolution.

    But 10 months after Mubarak’s ouster, protesters have vehemently denounced Sharaf’s government and the ruling military council, which they accuse of trying to maintain a grip on power.

    U.S. ‘deeply concerned’

    The United States said Monday it was “deeply concerned” by the violence in Egypt, but called for elections to be held as soon as possible despite three days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was important that the U.S. ally move toward democratic elections.

    “We’re deeply concerned about the violence,” he said. “We call on restraint of all sides.”

    Carney’s comments came on the third straight day of clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has left 24 people dead, plunging Egypt into its worst crisis since the fall of Mubarak.

    But Carney noted that it was “important to step back and remember how far Egypt has traveled this year. And it’s important that Egypt continues to move to make that transition to the democracy that the people of Egypt demanded. And, as a result of their demands, they ended a multi-decade dictatorship.”

    At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed the White House call for “free, fair elections,” and expressed hope the electoral process would remain on schedule.

    “We need to see a free, fair and transparent election on the 28th (of November) and that’s what will be a first step in demonstrating that not only governing authorities but all parties involved are sticking to the democratic roadmap and that it has integrity going forward,” she said.

    The Pentagon separately Monday urged restraint in Egypt and also stressed the importance of holding elections.

    “We certainly share everyone’s concerns about the violence there and urge everybody to show restraint,” spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters.

    The Pentagon was “gratified that the Supreme Council of the Armed forces intends to move forward with the elections” next week, Kirby said.

    “We believe that elections are incredibly important in terms of the final resolution here for Egypt and the Egyptian people,” he added.

    We need to see a free, fair and transparent election on the 28th and that’s what will be a first step in demonstrating that not only governing authorities but all parties involved are sticking to the democratic roadmap and that it has integrity going forward

    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland

    Calls for rally

    In Egypt, political forces behind the uprising have called for a mass rally on Tuesday to demand that the army cede power to civilian rule.

    The Coalition of Revolution Youth and the April 6 movement, among others, also called for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet and the formation of a “national salvation” government.

    They also demanded a presidential election to be held by April 2012 and a complete overhaul of the interior ministry.

    Police and military forces on Monday sporadically used batons, tear gas and birdshot against thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square demanding for a third straight day that the ruling military cede power to a civilian authority.

    The Supreme Council, in a statement read out on state television, said it “regretted” what was happening and said it was committed to the elections timetable.

    In a statement, 140 diplomats from the foreign ministry and Egypt’s missions abroad called for “an end to the violence and attacks by security forces against peaceful protesters.”

    “We, a group of Egyptian diplomats who joined the honorable January revolution (that toppled Hosni Mubarak) with our hearts, our minds and our bodies, are now witnessing an assault on the dignity of the people.”

    The diplomats called on the ruling SCAF to hold presidential elections “no later than mid-2012,” when power would be transferred to a civilian authority.

    They also urged the SCAF to “hold parliamentary elections on schedule and guarantee their security.”