CAIRO -- Egypt's military leader promised Tuesday to speed the transition to civilian rule, saying presidential elections would be held by the end of June. But the major concession was immediately rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square, who responded with chants of "Leave, leave!" now.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi vowed that landmark parliamentary elections would start on schedule on Monday, the first vote since authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in an uprising nine months ago. And he said the military was prepared to hold a referendum on immediately transferring power to a civilian authority, if the people demand it.
Tantawi said he has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's civilian government, and politicians who attended a five-hour crisis meeting with the generals said the military intended to replace Sharaf's cabinet with a "national salvation" government. It was not clear who might head it.
"Our demands are clear," said Khaled El-Sayed, a protester from the Youth Revolution Coalition and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election. "We want the military council to step down and hand over authority to a national salvation government with full authority." He also demanded that the commander of the military police and the interior minister, who is in charge of the police, be tried for the "horrific crimes" of the past few days, when 29 people were killed in clashes, most of them in Cairo.
The standoff culminated four days of demonstrations around the country, the most sustained challenge so far to nine months of military rule. It plunges the country deeper into a crisis that may only hamper the transition the protesters are fighting for.
In Tahrir Square, jubilation over the large turnout mixed with the seething anger directed at the military. The protesters had called for a million people to turn out Tuesday, and drew tens of thousands.
The crowds carried an open coffin with the body of a slain protester wrapped in white and held a funeral in the middle of the square. A stuffed military uniform was hung from a central light pole with a cardboard sign on its neck saying, "Execute the field marshal," a reference to Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years.