CAIRO - Egypt's military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.
More than 100,000 people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square for their biggest demonstration since the current showdown began, with activists accusing the generals of trying to extend the old guard and demanding they step down immediately after failing to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy following Mubarak's ouster.
Tensions have risen ahead of parliamentary elections, set to begin on Monday.
Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.
In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn't have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.
"The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates," he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. "I will take full authority so I'm able to serve my country."
He also said he won't be able to form a government before parliamentary elections start on Monday.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, appeared to bring its position on the crisis in Egypt closer to the protesters' demands, urging the generals to fully empower the next interim civilian government.
"We believe that Egypt's transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation," The White House said in a statement. "Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible."
El-Ganzouri's appointment was announced by state TV following a meeting late Thursday between el-him and Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years and served in el-Ganzouri's earlier government.
It was the latest in a series of efforts by the military to appease protesters without meeting their main demand of stepping down immediately.
The generals also apologized Thursday for the killing of nearly 40 protesters in five days of deadly clashes, mostly centered around the square. This was the longest spate of uninterrupted violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11. The streets were relatively calm on Friday as a truce negotiated Thursday in Cairo continued to hold.
But the choice of el-Ganzouri only deepened the anger of the protesters, already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of Mubarak's 29-year rule.
"Illegitimate, illegitimate!" the crowds in the downtown square chanted on hearing the news.
"Not only was he prime minister under Mubarak, but also part of the old regime for a total of 18 years," said protester Mohammed el-Fayoumi, 29. "Why did we have a revolution then?"
El-Ganzouri replaces Essam Sharaf, who resigned this week after nearly nine months in office amid deadly clashes between police and protesters calling for the military to immediately step down. Sharaf was criticized for being weak and beholden to the generals.