Egypt fires 669 officers to cleanse police force

By By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, July 13 2011 9:57 a.m. MDT

CAIRO — Egypt's government, meeting a key demand by protesters, fired nearly 700 top police officers on Wednesday to cleanse the discredited and widely unpopular force, state television reported.

In another nod to demands by activists, Egypt's military is delaying parliamentary elections initially expected to take place in September, Egypt's state news agency said. The vote is now to be held in October or November, the report said.

Many of the political parties that arose from the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 uprising against Hosni Mubarak sought to delay the vote so they could compete more effectively against better prepared and financed Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The military, which took control of the country when Mubarak stepped down, effectively announced the delay already Tuesday, saying preparations for the legislative election would begin Sept. 30.

The dismissal of 669 police officers was announced Wednesday by Interior Minister Mansour el-Issawi. It responds to one of the main demands of protesters camping out in Cairo's central Tahrir Square. The protesters want the police force to be purged of remnants of the Mubarak regime and officers involved in the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising.

Egyptian state TV said that 37 of the dismissed officers face charges of killing protesters.

Among those dismissed were 505 major-generals, including 10 of the interior minister's top assistants, 82 colonels, and 82 brigadiers, the report said.

"This is the biggest administrative move ... to bring new blood," to police force, el-Issawi said. He promised that "any police officer will be held accountable for any violation or reluctance."

The military also said Tuesday it would draft a set of regulations for selecting the 100-member assembly that will write a new constitution. That could make it more difficult for any Islamist-led legislature to choose the body and thereby give the charter an Islamist slant.

Protesters still in Tahrir lifted their siege of the city's largest government building Wednesday, allowing business to resume there while staying camped out in the square for a sixth day to press the country's new military rulers for faster change. Hundreds of Egyptians holding personal documents funneled into the building, a symbol of Egyptian bureaucracy.

"The complex is open upon orders of the revolution," read a banner on its front gates.

Protesters Mahmoud el-Noubi said organizers are trying to step up pressure on the government without disrupting daily life. A stern statement Tuesday from the military council failed to quell the protests in Tahrir, and participants said they would continue with their encampment until all their demands are met.

The protest had the feeling of a festival, with people hanging around outside their tents and makeshift shelters, reading newspapers, drinking tea and talking politics. Some picked up trash.

The myriad groups participating in the protest have splintered in recent months, though a huge banner was hung in the square that sought to unify their demands. It called for a new government, limited power for the military council, the release of prisoners tried in military tribunals and speedy public trials for former regime officials.

Fearing the pace of change has stalled, many protesters have turned their criticism to the army, once seen as the protector of the revolution for not firing on the protesters during the uprising.

"The council has proved that it is collaborating with Mubarak," said protester Ahmed Mahmoud. "We want a civilian council elected by the revolutionaries from the square."

Meanwhile, a leading watchdog slammed Egypt's military rulers for reinstating the Information Ministry, one of the symbols of Mubarak's authoritarian rule that was seen by many as a propaganda office for his regime.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement late Tuesday that the move was a major setback for press freedom in Egypt, saying the ministry's history as an arm of the ousted regime makes it unsuitable "to reform the media sector."

The ministry was disbanded and its head sacked following Mubarak's ouster. The military council last week reinstated the ministry and named a new information minister.

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