A young Egyptian keeps an eye on soldiers deployed atop a barricade on the… (Khalil Hamra, Associated…)
Reporting from Cairo — Days of clashes between protesters and riot police were calmed by a truce Thursday as Egypt's military leaders apologized for the deaths of demonstrators but refused to relinquish power and vowed to hold parliamentary elections next week.
The truce and the apology did not deter thousands of Egyptians from pouring into Tahrir Square for a seventh day of protests, which have become the most potent challenge to military rule since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. Army units set up barricades and barbed wire in streets leading off the square to create a buffer zone between protesters and riot police.
State media announced late Thursday that Kamal Ganzouri, a former prime minister, would lead a new interim government to replace the military-backed Cabinet led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, which resigned this week under intense public pressure.
It is unclear whether Ganzouri, who served under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999 and was credited with reducing poverty and improving Egypt's international financing, would prove a good choice for protesters. Ganzouri largely has been out of the public eye for the last decade. This year, Facebook groups began promoting him for president, but the efforts did not generate widespread support.
"The Supreme Council of Armed Forces offers its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt's loyal sons," the military council posted on its Facebook page regarding the 35 people killed since Saturday. "The council also offers its condolences to the families of the martyrs across Egypt."
The apology is "too little too late for us," said Mostafa Kamel, a 55-year-old architect. "SCAF only issued it after they were subjected to widespread condemnation for this week's deaths. They [the military council] wouldn't have apologized if it wasn't for riots that erupted in all cities across the nation."
But the army was adamant that it would not be bowed. Gen. Mokhtar Mulla, a member of the council who heads the country's election committee, said, "If we look at those in Tahrir, regardless of their number, they don't represent the Egyptian people, but we must respect their opinion."
Days of unrest have left many Egyptians wondering whether Monday's elections would be canceled. But Mulla said, "We will not delay elections. That is the final word."
The military's apology for the deaths was a rare conciliatory gesture. It followed the announcement this week by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi that the army would turn power over to a democratic government by July 1, about six months earlier than it had planned. But protesters want the military to cede authority to a civilian government now.
"I'm not leaving Tahrir until Tantawi leaves. The whole country is being ruined under the military's rule and we can't wait any longer," said Magdi Ahmed Mostafa, who has been camping in one of the many tents set up in the square for days. "We are calling for a civilian presidential council that would lead Egypt for the remainder of the transitional period."
The truce, negotiated by clerics, brought a marked calm across downtown Cairo. Scores of protesters formed human shields to prevent any in their ranks from entering Mohamed Mahmoud Street overlooking Tahrir, where the majority of clashes with black-clad riot police have occurred.
"The street is clear and the revolution is in Tahrir!" chanted some protesters, calling on demonstrators to remain in the square.
A number of political parties and groups have called for a million-man march in Tahrir on Friday to keep up pressure on the army. Egypt's biggest and most organized group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which hasn't participated in the sit-in and has called on Egyptians to pave the way for elections, won't be participating Friday.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, expected to win a major share of parliamentary seats, has been accused of abandoning the revolution for its own political gain.
Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau. Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this report.