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Protesters march on Egypt parliament

2012-01-31 21:28

Cairo - Thousands of protesters marched on Egypt's parliament on Tuesday demanding a swift end to army rule, and some turned their anger on the leading Islamist movement they accused of doing the military's bidding.

Inside, army-backed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, 78, who served ousted President Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s, addressed the new parliament for the first time but faced tough criticism by Islamist and other deputies of the slow pace of reform.

Some youth members of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won nearly half the seats in the recent parliamentary election, formed a cordon in the street leading to parliament to prevent protesters from approaching the building.

"The people want the fall of the Brotherhood," protesters chanted, twisting a chant normally used against the army council that has held power since Mubarak was toppled in February. They also chanted against the army.

The stand-off reflects the deepening frustration of young activists who galvanised the anti-Mubarak revolt but have seen Islamists capitalise on the political changes by sweeping up seats in the first free parliamentary poll in decades.

Haitham Saleh, 26, a member of the FJP who was outside parliament, defended the Brotherhood: "We want what protesters want. A quick transfer of power and an end to military rule. Senior Brotherhood leaders and parliamentarians have said that on many talk shows and interviews."

The army has pledged to hand over power by the end of June and an army-appointed advisory council is considering a proposal that may lead to a presidential vote in May. Activists suspect the military wants to hold onto power behind the scenes after that.

Among the new legislators are members of the Brotherhood who had served time in jail when their organisation was banned under Mubarak. The Brotherhood had also secured some seats in the Mubarak era, skirting the ban by standing as "independents".

Real retribution, real trials

"I must say this assembly is new in everything. Glory be to God, I see faces here today that are very different from the faces of before," Ganzouri told the assembly.

Striking a different tone from previous parliaments that were stuffed with members of Mubarak's ruling party, one deputy after another took the floor to question Ganzouri, criticising months of foot-dragging and calling for faster reforms.

"We appreciate the government is facing a difficult mission at a difficult time but the government must know that we will not rest until real retribution, with real trials, happens," said Essam El-Erian, a senior FJP official.

Parliament said in its first sessions that it would hold its own inquiry into violence during the uprising, to secure justice for those injured or families of those killed.

No one has yet been held accountable for the hundreds who died. The trial of Mubarak, his sons, his interior minister and senior police officers is still going on.

"The demands of the revolution are known. The regime has not fallen yet and all Egyptians know that," youth member of parliament Moustafa al-Naggar said, calling on the cabinet to focus more seriously on the ongoing trials.

Deputies also made clear that Ganzouri's government would face close scrutiny by the new parliament.

Take the initiative

"The government must take [the] initiative to tell us what its vision to achieve justice is, and we will take initiative by providing any legislation needed," Erian added, calling on the government to increase financial compensation to the victims.

Ganzouri outlined the funds allocated to families of those killed. "Compensation to the victims of the revolution cannot, in any way, be measured in financial terms... but can only be compensated through retribution," he added.

The Brotherhood won nearly half the seats in the phased election that began in November and ended this month, an outcome unthinkable just a year ago. But many Egyptians are frustrated at the pace of change and some have been driven to the streets.

Ganzouri repeated calls for protesters and the assembly to help restore calm to help the battered economy.

"Ganzouri said nothing new. It is the same talk about making little progress made here and there in the last period. He spoke in the same way that members of the past regime used to speak," liberal MP Basil Adel told Reuters.

"What we wanted to hear from him was a true assessment of the current political and economic situation in Egypt and the economic crisis the country is heading to soon," he added.