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Egypt's military renews pledge to step down

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military remains committed to handing over power to a civilian administrationEgypt's military rulers have said they are committed to handing over power to a civilian administration on July 1.

The announcement on Thursday came a day after 11 people died in an attack on an anti-military protest outside the defence ministry in Cairo.

Major General Mohammed al-Assar, a senior official in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), also guranteed that presidential election scheduled for May 23-24 will be fair.

"We are committed to fair elections [...] We don't have any [favoured] candidates. All the candidates are respectable Egyptians," Assar told a news conference.

He said that the country's election commission had invited 45 foreign observers to monitor the election, and that diplomats at embassies in the country had also been invited to send delegates to observe the poll.

Assar's comments appear to address charges by politicians that the military plans to use the clashes as a pretext to ignore the July 1 deadline.

The military council took over after authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year.

Assar, an aide to the defence minister, said the security forces had intervened "positively" to stop the bloodshed and to ensure stability.

"Egypt is in danger... Everyone must realise this danger," he said.

"I propose an initiative to all political parties and religious leaders to go to Abbassiya and try to persuade the youths to leave Abbassiya," he said referring to the Cairo district in which Wednesday's clashes occurred.

"Go to Tahrir Square... to stay away from the defence ministry because we dont want to use any violence against our youths," he added.

General Mokhtar al-Mulla, a member of SCAF, warned protesters that they should not attempt to approach the defence ministry, after activists called for fresh demonstrations there on Friday following deadly clashes at the site.

"The responsibility, the duty, the law and the right to self-defence, as well as the honour of the military obligates members of the armed forces to defend the defence ministry and its military installations because they are a symbol of military honour and the stature of the nation," General Mulla said on Thursday.

"If anyone approaches its [installations], they should hold themselves responsible," he told reporters.

Cairo's Tahrir Square was the epicentre of the massive protest movement that eventually forced Mubarak to hand over power to the military, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Around 1,000 protesters have been camped outside the defense ministry for days, demanding an end to military rule. Most are supporters of disqualified presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative, barred from running because his late mother held dual Egyptian-US citizenship, making him ineligible under election laws.

The presidential election scheduled for May 23 and 24 could be followed by a run-off, if required, on June 16 and 17.

"We have said and repeated since November 2011 that the Supreme Council is committed to handing over power before June 30, 2012. And today we say it again clearly and frankly: the SCAF is committed to handing over power by June 30, 2012 and even before," said Assar.


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