Egypt's military renews pledge to step down

Associated Press
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An Egyptian medic helps a wounded man during clashes outside the Defense Ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. Clashes erupted on Wednesday between assailants and mostly Islamist protesters gathered outside the Defense Ministry in the Egyptian capital, leaving several people dead and many wounded, security officials said. (AP Photo/Mostafa El Shemy)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's ruling military council is committed to handing over power to a civilian administration by July 1 as it promised, one of the council's senior members said Thursday.

The announcement came a day after deadly clashes between protesters and assailants left at least 11 dead in Cairo, prompting some politicians to voice fears that the military might use the violence as a pretext to ignore its own deadline to relinquish control of the country.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Asar also told reporters that the military will ensure the integrity and fairness of presidential elections scheduled for May 23-24.

The military took over after a popular uprising ousted Egypt's authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

But in over a year in power, it has been accused of badly bungling the transition, killing protesters, hauling more than 10,000 civilians to trial before military tribunals and of scheming to enshrine a political role for itself after handing over power.

"We say it frankly and clearly, the armed forces and their supreme council are committed to the handover of power on June 30," al-Asar said. "We don't desire power. The Supreme Council (of the Armed Forces) is not a substitute for legitimacy in Egypt."

Protesters have long called for the military to immediately step down, but the generals have responded by saying they would stick to the timetable they announced for the transfer of power.

Adding to the tensions in the run-up to this month's presidential balloting is that Egypt's post-Mubarak and Islamist-dominated parliament has not been able to project its power beyond the chamber, while the ruling generals hold near-absolute executive powers.

Al-Asar also denounced suspicions expressed mostly by Islamist politicians that the May presidential election could be rigged if the military-backed government of Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri remains in office.

"How could anyone even think that the armed forces, which are mandated with the noble task of protecting the country, could be involved in or cover up the rigging of the election?"

Al-Asar and two other members of the military council spoke to reporters in Cairo. Above the three hung a banner reading: "The armed forces honor the promises they make."