Party leaders meet with Egyptian army chief

Scuffles erupt in central Cairo between protesters and troops as top military figure convenes talks with parties.

    A protester at Tahrir Square in Cairo flashes the victory sign above a sign that reads: "No Emergency Law"[Reuters]

    Scuffles and stone-throwing broke out in Cairo's Tahrir Square hours before Sami Enan, Egypt's military chief of staff, met political party leaders a day after protesters in the square demanded reforms.

    Enan, who is also the number two in the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), had invited a range of parties - including the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd to talk, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

    During the meeting, the parties called for the abolition of a controversial article in Egypt's new electoral law, and for a ban on former regime members running for public office.

    They had threatened a vote boycott unless the controversial article was cancelled, throwing into question the credibility of Egypt's first post-Mubarak polls.

    Those at the meeting - and dozens more groups - objected to Article 5, which stipulates that two-thirds of seats up for grabs in the upcoming parliamentary elections would be on a party list system and the rest for independent candidates.

    "People who are party members were not allowed to run for the individual seats," Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said. 

    "But in the meeting today, SCAF yielded in allowing party members to run for the other one-third of the seats as well."

    Swifter reforms

    The government, facing growing demands for swifter democratic reforms, said it would study the status of an emergency law condemned by rights activists for handing police sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

    It said it would also study putting an end to military trials for civilians and set a clearer timeline for a transition to civilian rule, saying the lower house of parliament would begin its work in the second half of January.

    Saturday's meeting comes a day after thousands flocked to Tahrir to demand the cleansing institutions of remnants of Mubarak-era officials.

    Trouble broke out on Saturday when protesters who said they would stay in the square until their demands were met were forcibly removed by security forces and troops. 

    Some of the demonstrators who refused to move began hurling stones at riot police, who were carrying shields and batons.

    Ten people were arrested, none of whom belonged to any of the known grassroots movements. Most of the main groups involved in Friday's rally had said they would not take part in Saturday's sit-in.

    'End to emergency law'

    Around a dozen protesters had been arrested on Friday after around 300 tried to head to the defence ministry but were blocked by military police.

    "We are planning to hold a big sit-in as we have three demands, an end to emergency law, an end to military trials of civilians and speeding up trials of previous top officials," Mostafa el Hag, a 28 year-old singer and activist said.

    "We are waiting to see what the military council says on Sunday," he said.

    On Tuesday, SCAF laid out the timetable for the first post-Mubarak elections, which will start on November 28 and take place over four months. A presidential election is also expected to be held next year.

    The Democratic Coalition, which groups dozens of parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd, has threatened to boycott the vote, fearing that the new electoral law will help old regime figures to return to parliament.

    SCAF has been in power since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February, and has repeatedly stressed its commitment to democracy.

    But protesters have been gathering in Tahrir on an almost weekly basis to express their anger and frustration at the military's handling of the transition.

    Under Mubarak, candidates affiliated with his party used patronage or pressure to garner votes.

    Activists say that a proportional list system would help avoid that, because voters would be electing candidates based on a party's political platform, circumventing candidates' personal power and influence.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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