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Prime minister picked by Mubarak resigns

Egyptian protesters saw Ahmed Shafiq as condescending toward the pro-democracy movement. Large rallies are planned for Friday as demonstrators say demands remain unmet.

March 03, 2011|By Jeffrey Fleishman and Garrett Therolf | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
  • Demonstrators shout for the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq outside a government building in Cairo.
Demonstrators shout for the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq outside a government… (Peter Andrews, Reuters )

Reporting from Cairo — The prime minister appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak resigned Thursday as Egypt's revolutionary movement prepared for mass demonstrations against him.

The resignation of Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general and one of the most potent hold-over symbols of the Mubarak regime, was announced on the ruling military council's website. He had been criticized for his condescending air toward young protesters and a lack of vision.

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who became a prominent protest figure, celebrated his resignation. "Power to the people!" he said on Twitter.

But protesters vowed to continue with plans for large rallies Friday because other key demands remained unmet, they said, including the removal of the country's emergency law, which gives the government the ability to arrest people without charge.

Shafiq will be replaced by Essam Sharaf, a former transportation minister who criticized Mubarak's government after leaving in 2006 amid a series of deadly train accidents blamed on government negligence. In recent weeks, he visited protesters in Tahrir Square and became one of their most popular candidates to replace Shafiq.

The newly appointed prime minister is viewed as one of the few officials with significant government experience who is still untainted by ties to the ousted regime. The military said he will be asked to form a new caretaker Cabinet as the country transitions to civilian control.

The outgoing prime minister often seemed aloof to the passion for change that brought down Mubarak even as other top officials, including Interior Minister Habib Adli and Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi, were arrested for corruption and other charges.

Shafiq's resignation is an indication the military is attempting, at least publicly, to weaken the influence of Mubarak's inner circle as it works with opposition figures to form a transitional government. It is also likely to appease many Egyptians who stream weekly into Tahrir Square to protest what they regard as a lack of momentum toward political reform and the lifting of 30 years of emergency law.

"Why should we leave?" said Yassim Abdel Salam, sitting unshaven and wrapped in a scarf near a row of tents in Tahrir. "There is no reason to leave. We've called for six demands and none have been fulfilled. The whole world has been saluting the Egyptian revolution, but the true goals of our rebellion have not been met."

The military on Wednesday met with leading political figures including Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, to discuss a transitional government. The army is calling for parliamentary and presidential elections within months, but ElBaradei and other opposition leaders want elections delayed for a year to give fledgling political parties a chance to mature.

If not, they say, the elections will be dominated by the most powerful existing organizations -- the ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. ElBaradei also told top military officials that Shafiq's government -- handpicked by Mubarak in the days before he resigned -- had to be dissolved before meaningful reform could begin.

On Wednesday night, hours before he would resign, Shafiq appeared on a talk show with Naguib Sawiris, one of the country's leading businessmen, and Hamdi Kandil, a longtime pundit and journalist. The meeting turned raucous as Kandil, staring down Shafiq, articulated what much of the nation felt: "I'm surprised that you remain as prime minister and that you accept it even when you know the majority of Egyptians want to see you go."

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com, garrett.therolf@latimes.com
News assistant Amro Hassan contributed to this article from Cairo.

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