Egypt military in crisis talks as protests swell

Updated 11:31 a.m. ET

CAIRO - Egyptian politicians say the ruling military has moved up the date for transferring power to a civilian government to July 1, 2012.

Abu al-alla Madi and Mohammed Selim el-Awa, two politicians who attended a five-hour crisis meeting with the military rulers, said Tuesday that the council also accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's government and will form a "national salvation" Cabinet to replace it and steer the country toward civilian rule.

The announcement was immediately rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

"We are not leaving, he leaves," they chanted, referring to military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

The July scenario would be a compromise. Protesters had sought new presidential elections by April, but under the military's existing timetable it would continue to rule until late 2012 or early 2013. The military council had not yet publicly confirmed the agreement announced by civilian politicians.

A swelling crowd of tens of thousands filled Cairo's Tahrir Square Tuesday, answering the call for a million people to turn out and intensify pressure on the military leadership to relinquish power and forcing the ruling military council into crisis talks with political parties.

The military head of state, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was expected to address the nation imminently as protests in Cairo and other major cities carried on for a fourth day. Security forces stayed out of Tahrir itself to lower the temperature. But there were clashes on side streets leading to the square that was the epicenter of the uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February.

The new wave of protests and violence around the country has left 29 dead and has thrown Egypt's politics into chaos less than a week before landmark parliamentary elections were to begin. Further confusing the situation, the military-backed civilian government on Monday submitted a mass resignation in response to the turmoil.

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In a sign it was struggling over how to respond to the fast-changing events, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- the military body that rules the country -- still had not responded to the resignation offer by Tuesday. The council's generals met Tuesday with leaders of all the various political factions, apparently trying to find a replacement government.

But the military has been backed into a difficult corner. Protesters are demanding it surrender the reins of power -- or at least set a firm date in the very near future for doing so soon. Without that, few civilian political leaders are likely to join a new government for fear of being tainted as facades for the generals, as many consider the current Cabinet.

Longtime Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak was ousted following nearly three weeks of sometimes violent protests in February. Egyptians celebrated but have grown frustrated with the country's military -- once an ally against Mubarak -- which is leading the country on an interim basis ahead of free elections.

Harsh police tactics like those used in Mubarak's era have fuelled anger and convinced many protesters that the generals who served the former president have hijacked their revolution.

The protesters are suspicious of the military's willingness to give up power, and see harsh police crackdowns as an echo of Mubarak's rule.

Parliamentary elections slated to begin Nov. 28 are expected to go forward, but protesters are more focused on a new presidential election. Protesters hope that will go forward by spring, while the military's timetable leaves it in power until late 2012 or early 2013.

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The office of leading pro-reform activist Mohamad ElBaradei said the Nobel Peace Laureate did not attend the crisis meeting but was in touch with the military. ElBaradei, the office said, prefers to continue to act as the link between the military council and the protesters until the crisis is resolved.

ElBaradei's name has been mentioned by protesters as a suitable replacement for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who has come under intense criticism for the perceived inefficiency of his civilian government and for being beholden to the ruling generals.

Meanwhile, three American students at the American University of Cairo, which sits on Tahrir Square, were arrested outside the university's campus Monday night, the AUC said.

A university spokeswoman identified the students as Luke Gates, 21, an exchange student from Bloomington, Ind. who attends Indiana University; and Gregory Porter, 19, of Glenside, Penn., who attends Drexel University.

The spokeswoman did not identify the third student by name, but said he is an exchange student from Georgetown University. He was identified elsewhere as Derrik Sweeney.

An Egyptian Interior Ministry official said the three were arrested while on the roof of one of the university's buildings throwing firebombs at security forces who were fighting protesters in Tahrir Square.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to speak to the media.

State television showed brief footage of the three students, males who appeared to be in their early 20s.

The talks came as Egyptians again converged on Cairo's central Tahrir Square in response to a call for a so-called million-man march. Protesters hoisted a giant Egyptian flag and chanted slogans on Tuesday, evidence that the offer of resignation by the civilian Cabinet had failed to quell the spreading unrest.

Egypt's state-TV says three people were killed overnight in the eastern city of Ismailia, raising the overall death toll from the protests to 29.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that small groups of protesters skirmished Tuesday with police guarding key buildings near Tahrir Square, as thousands of Egyptians from across the political spectrum descended on the plaza, heeding the call for a mass rally.

"We need to have a clear cut timetable, we need to have a president by April," protester Nasreen Menisi told CBS News. "We need to have a proper democracy in place and a proper system so that we know where we stand."

Palmer says the violence recalls the vast popular uprising in February which eventually forced Egypt's authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak out of office after decades in power.

In the original uprising, Egyptians in Tahrir Square welcomed the soldiers as heroes as they sided with the people - but not any more.

Egyptian protesters call for million-man march

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