REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- They came by the tens of thousands, swelling through neighborhoods, marching over bridges and pouring into Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest protest yet against Egypt’s beleaguered military rulers.
The demonstration in Cairo erupted days ahead of Monday’s parliamentary elections, heightening this frayed nation’s political turmoil and intensifying the standoff between protesters who succeeded in ousting longtime President Hosni Mubarak and generals who have yet to solidify their once-unquestioned legitimacy.
In a bold public rebuke, Washington urged the military to step aside. The move signaled the Obama administration’s frustration over months of human-rights abuses and stifled democracy in one of the region’s most influential nations.
“The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately,” the White House said in a statement. “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."
In a news conference, Ganzouri said the military has granted him more powers than were given to the interim Cabinet led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, which resigned this week. It was unclear what those powers would include.
The military did find a bastion of support Friday. Thousands gathered in the neighborhood of Abbasiya, shouting slogans in favor of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the man they regard as holding the nation together amid economic uncertainty and social upheaval.
Other protesters are calling for a "national salvation government" that might be headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, or Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh, a presidential candidate and former top official in the Muslim Brotherhood -- the nation’s most powerful political force. The transitional government would stay in place until a president is elected.
Recent violence between police and protesters has killed at least 41 and injured 2,000, but the situation remained more calm for a second day after a truce was reached early Thursday.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan
Photo: Egyptian protesters chant slogans in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. Credit: Esam Al-Fetori / Reuters