Egypt's new PM says army to give him extra powers

CAIRO Tue Dec 6, 2011 3:48pm EST

An Egyptian soldier stands guard as members of the election committee sit in a bus with ballot boxes after voting closed, outside a voting center during the second day of the parliamentary run-off elections in Cairo December 6, 2011. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

An Egyptian soldier stands guard as members of the election committee sit in a bus with ballot boxes after voting closed, outside a voting center during the second day of the parliamentary run-off elections in Cairo December 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's new prime minister said on Tuesday the ruling army would grant him extra powers, and appointed a finance minister along with most other cabinet members, state media reported.

Kamal al-Ganzouri has been struggling to put together a cabinet since Egypt's military rulers brought him out of retirement to lead a new interim government nearly two weeks ago.

State television on Tuesday confirmed Ganzouri's appointment of Mumtaz al-Saeed as finance minister, but said two portfolios, including the powerful interior ministry, had yet to be filled.

The new interior minister would be announced when the cabinet takes the oath of office on Wednesday, it said.

Ganzouri told a news conference the army would issue a decree "this evening or tomorrow" to hand the premier presidential powers "except those concerning the judiciary and armed forces." He gave no further detail.

The appointment of Ganzouri, 78, has been criticized by protesters seeking a full purge of the system because he served as prime minister in the 1990s under ousted Hosni Mubarak.

The military itself has jealously shielded its own broad interests from civilian oversight. But, under pressure from protests, the army has said it would cede power to civilians in mid-2012 after a presidential vote, sooner than it had planned.

A senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which secured the biggest chunk of votes in first round of a parliamentary election, said it was reviewing Ganzouri's statement on being granted more powers.

The group has played down suggestions that Islamists would try to dominate parliament when it gets to work after the staggered election is completed in January.

It promised Egyptians voting in a run-off on Tuesday it would work in a broad coalition if its party wins elections.

DELAYS

The announcement of the government was postponed from Sunday to Wednesday, Ganzouri said, because of difficulties in appointing a new interior minister hours before the parliamentary election's first stage run-offs.

Ganzouri said his "government of national salvation" would concentrate on Egypt's security and its economy.

The new interior minister should focus on crime, he said, apparently seeking to allay criticism that the police have been more keen on cracking down on political dissent than on keeping Egypt's streets safe in the chaos that followed the uprising.

The new finance minister, Saeed, is a finance ministry veteran who was pulled out of retirement to serve as deputy to outgoing Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who was appointed in July, a ministry source said.

"He is a very meticulous civil servant," said the source, adding Saeed was well-versed in all aspects of the ministry's work. "He knows every bit of the ministry," the source added.

About half the cabinet have kept the posts they had under the outgoing premier, Essam Sharaf. Two of the ministers served when Mubarak was still in office and have survived successive reshuffles.

Critics accused Sharaf's cabinet of not carrying out deep enough reforms of the police force, which was hated for the way it crushed dissent under Mubarak. Police were accused of heavy-handed tactics in violent clashes with demonstrators last month.

The protests pushed the army to accept the resignation of Sharaf's cabinet.

Protesters in Cairo and other cities demanding an immediate end to military rule faced teargas, pellets and rubber bullets in clashes that killed 42 people. They also accused police of firing live rounds. Officials denied this.

Politicians have also accused the army of meddling in economic policy, particularly over whether or not Egypt will sign up to a $3.2 billion financing facility from the International Monetary Fund to supports its battered economy.

Egypt first negotiated the facility this year but turned it down in the summer in part because the then finance minister said the army did not want to build up debts. The next minister said Egypt was inclined to take the funds, but the incoming minister has now said Cairo is not ready to decide.

A senior army finance official said this month that Egypt did not want foreign borrowing because it came with too many political strings attached.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Ali Abdulaty; Writing by Patrick Werr and Edmund Blair, Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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