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Egypt's government quits as turmoil rises

CAIRO -- Egypt's army-appointed government handed in its resignation yesterday, trying to stem a spiraling crisis as thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square clashed for the third straight day with security forces. The violence has killed at least 24 people and posed the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of the military.

The crowds in Tahrir, which had grown to well over 10,000 after nightfall, broke out into cheers with the news of the cabinet's move, chanting, "God is great." But there was no sign the concession would break their determination to protest until the military steps down completely and hands over power to a civilian government.

Beating drums, the protesters quickly resumed their chants of "the people want the ouster of the field marshal," a reference to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the council of generals that has ruled the country since the Feb. 11 fall of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which Tantawi heads, did not immediately announce whether it would accept the mass resignation. Many Egyptians had seen the government, headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, as a mere facade for the military and either unable or unwilling to press ahead with democratic reform or take action to stem increasing turmoil and economic crisis around the country.

The anger has ultimately been focused on the generals themselves, who many activists accuse of acting as abusively as Mubarak's regime and of intending to maintain their grip on power.

The turmoil comes only a week before Egypt is to start key parliamentary elections, which many had hoped would be a landmark in the transition to a democracy. Instead, they have been overshadowed by the standoff over the military. Activists believe that no matter who wins the vote, the generals will dominate the next government as much as they did Sharaf's. The military says it will hand over power only after presidential elections, which it has vaguely said will be held in late 2012 or early 2013.

If yesterday's resignations are carried out, a crucial question will be who will replace the cabinet. Some in the square demand the military immediately hand over all its authority to a national unity government made up of multiple factions.

"We are not clearing the square until there is a national salvation government that is representative and has full responsibility," said activist Rami Shaat.

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