Shafiq moves Cabinet meetings due to demonstrations

Ahram Portal and Reuters, Tuesday 22 Feb 2011

Cabinet meetings take place away from downtown offices due a planned million-person demonstration demanding the removal of Shafiq and his cabinet

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq changed location today from the Cabinet offices in downtown to the Ministry of Civil Aviation offices after a security advisory was issued due to planned demonstrations. A million-person demonstration has been planned for Tuesday by pro-democracy protesters to pressure the ruling military council to purge the old guard of deposed president Hosni Mubarak and appoint a new cabinet.  

The demonstrations have begun with a few people near the cabinet office while others gather in Tahrir Square.

Shafiq is meeting shortly with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, who is the second European official to visit Egypt after 25 January uprising, preceded yesterday by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Egypt's new military rulers were expected to unveil a new cabinet on Tuesday.

Leaks of the reshuffle to state media showing key ministers, such as foreign, finance and interior, unchanged were greeted with a sour reaction by reformists who want a fresh cabinet with technocrats to run the Arab world's most populous nation.

As the military struggles to organise a handover of power with free and fair elections following the ouster of Mubarak, its neighbour Libya was engulfed by a fierce crackdown on a mounting revolt to the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was in Cairo on Tuesday to offer international aid to help the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to get the country back to work and to secure a peaceful, swift and orderly transition of power.

"I am certainly looking at ways for us to offer support," Ashton told reporters, after a visit by Cameron and US officials, offering help to the rulers of this key American ally that has a peace treaty with Israel.

The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political organisation which has a growing influence in the post-Mubarak era, said it was not offered a portfolio. Others referred to in leaks of a reshuffle defended their appointments.

Others involved in the movement that toppled Mubarak's 30-year rule with an 18-day uprising signalled their displeasure at the plans by the council, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has been defence minister for two decades.

Millions turned out for Egypt's uprising, centred around Cairo's Tahrir Square, to protest about corruption, repression and poverty, whipping up a revolution that toppled Mubarak, a former air force commander who took over after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

The military dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and promised presidential and parliamentary elections in six months but reformists are urging wider reforms and the lifting of emergency law imposed after Sadat's killing.

A group of youths called the People's National Movement for Change will stage a march from Talaat Harb Square to Tahrir Square at 2:00pm on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq's interim government.

The protesters said they would give the cabinet until Wednesday to resign and will call for a big sit-in in Tahrir on Thursday and a march on Friday.

"We will march in protest to demand the resignation of Shafiq's government and abolishing emergency law and the trial of Mubarak and his family," the movement's Mohamed Fahmy said, adding the group also demanded setting a new minimum wage.

The military, facing protests over wages and conditions that sprang out of the nation's new found post-Mubarak freedom, has effectively banned strikes and industrial action to get the nation back on its feet and to restart the damaged economy.

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