Khalil Hamra, Associated Press
CAIRO — Egypt's military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's era to head the next government, according to state television, a choice that will almost certainly intensify criticism by tens of thousands of protesters accusing the generals of trying to extend the old guard and demanding they step down immediately.
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.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, hardened its stance, urging the generals to transfer power to a civilian government immediately.
"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."
The announcement about the prime minister followed a meeting late Thursday between el-Ganzouri and senior military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years and served in the government headed by el-Ganzouri.
"Illegitimate, illegitimate!" chanted the crowds at Cairo's central Tahrir Square on hearing news of el-Ganzouri's appointment.
"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 will replace 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. The television announcement said el-Ganzouri will enjoy "authority," but did not elaborate.
"Ganzouri is a new Sharaf. He's old regime," said Nayer Mustafa, 62. "The revolution was hijacked once. We won't let it happen again."
The military has said parliamentary elections, the first since Mubarak's ouster, will be held on schedule despite the unrest in Cairo and a string of other cities to the north and south of the capital. Voting starts Monday and concludes in March, meaning that el-Ganzouri could be prime minister only until a new government is formed following the seating of a new legislature.
There was no word on whether el-Ganzouri accepted the mandate given to him by Tantawi, but an announcement on his selection for the job would not have been made if he had not.
El-Ganzouri's appointment was likely to deepen the anger of the protesters, already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of Mubarak's 29-year rule.
Protesters chanting, "Leave, leave!" filled up Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday for what has been dubbed by organizers as "The Last Chance Million-Man Protest" aimed at forcing the military council to yield power.
Pro-reform leader and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was mobbed by hundreds of supporters as he arrived in the square and took part in Friday prayers, leaving shortly afterward.
"He is here to support the revolutionaries," said protester Ahmed Awad, 35. "He came to see for himself the tragedy caused by the military."
Swelling crowds of demonstrators chanted, "The people want to bring down the marshal", in reference to Tantawi, who took over the reins of power from Mubarak.
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