CAIRO -- Moving to dispel suggestions that they are maneuvering to stay in power, Egypt's military leaders on Thursday reaffirmed their promise to hand authority to a new president no later than June 30.
"Since last November we have been repeating in every possible occasion that [the army] is committed to handing over power," Gen. Adel Aasar, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, said at a news conference.
"We are not seeking power," he added. "SCAF is not a substitute for legitimate authority."
The military, which has been ruling the country since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power last year, has recently been accused of fabricating crises to prolong the transition to democracy. Such charges escalated Wednesday when 11 people were killed and about 200 injured in clashes between anti-military protesters and unidentified attackers near Egypt's Defense Ministry in Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo.
Aasar said the military council was "sorry for the events" and called on political and religious leaders to convince demonstrators to abandon the area around the ministry to avoid further violence. Aasar and Gen. Mukhtar Mulla, who also spoke at the news conference, blamed unnamed local and "foreign sides" of instigating unrest ahead of presidential election on May 23.
Several hundred protesters remained in Abbasiya on Thursday, demanding that the council immediately step down and claiming that the army might attempt to hijack the election. Aasar said he was "bemused by the doubts that SCAF can take part or allow rigging during presidential election. ... The army does not have a candidate and stands at a similar distance from all nominees."
Wednesday's killings were the latest in a series of deadly confrontations. Activists maintain that a hidden force or a third power loyal to military and police forces has repeatedly dispatched thugs to upset peaceful protests.
Egypt's biggest Islamic movements, the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis, along with the country's main youth revolutionary groups have called for marches on Abbasiya on Friday to protest the most recent killings. Mulla warned against such a move.
"We're trying to protect demonstrators from themselves," he said. "Anyone approaching the Ministry of Defense will be met by legal self-defense without a question."
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: An injured man is given assistance during Wednesday's clashes in Cairo's Abbasiya neighborhood. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / EPA