x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

US may cut aid as Egypt's military rulers face continued protests

A fourth day of street protests spearheading calls to speed up the transfer of power to a civilian administration and the United States threatening to cut more than a billion dollars in aid.

CAIRO // Egypt's military rulers were facing pressure on two fronts yesterday, with a fourth day of street protests spearheading calls to speed up the transfer of power to a civilian administration and the United States threatening to cut more than a billion dollars in aid.

The protests, which were sparked by anger at the authorities' inability to prevent a riot after a football match last week left 74 people dead, have morphed from a demonstration of anger at the police into renewed calls for the military to step down.

The fresh wave of violence has also thrown into question the general's legitimacy to rule and their handling of Egypt's transition to democratic rule.

In downtown Cairo, security forces fired salvos of tear gas at thousands of protesters who were marching on the interior ministry.

Thick white smoke clogged the streets around the ministry, and medics had set up field hospitals to treat the injured on nearby Tahrir Square.

Since Thursday, 12 people have been killed in Cairo and in Suez, a hotbed of anti-government protests east of the capital.

Protesters who had lobbed stones and petrol bombs at the police cheered when their comrades brought back a captured man they said was a plainclothes officer. Others tried to shield him from the protesters' kicks and punches.

The protesters denied they had intended to storm the ministry, several hundred metres from Tahrir Square.

"My heart burned at what happened in Port Said, and we all know that the police are responsible," said one of the protesters, a high school student who said his name was Ahmed Farag.

"We don't want to storm the ministry. We are protesting here because this is the police headquarters."

While the protesters have been the most vocal in their demands the military step down, they increasingly have been joined by politicians.

On Saturday, a consultative council appointed by the military proposed speeding up the transfer of power by holding presidential elections earlier than the current deadline at the end of June.

It suggested opening the door for nominations on February 23, which would allow the vote to take place as early as April. The council is composed of political leaders, experts and representatives appointed by the military months ago in what activists believed to be an attempt to add civilian cover to army rule.

The Egyptian presidential hopeful and ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Saturday also threw his weight behind a speedier transition.

However, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group that holds nearly 50 per cent of the seats in parliament has been hesitant to back the move, and has on several occasions supported the military's timetable.

The protests have been coupled with warnings from the US - a key ally - of cutting aid following raids on 17 pro-democracy and rights groups as well as a ban on some American aid workers from leaving the country.

US officials blasted the raids, which Egyptian officials have defended as part of a legitimate investigation into the groups' work and finances.

On Saturday, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned Egypt's foreign minister that failure to resolve the dispute may lead to the loss of American aid. Washington is due to give Egypt US$1.3 billion (Dh4.77bn) in military assistance and $250 million in economic aid in 2012.