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Egypt Army Suspends Constitution, Meets Protester Demand

Egypt’s ruling army council said it aims to hand power to a democratically elected government within six months, after almost three weeks of popular unrest ended 30 years of autocratic rule by President Hosni Mubarak.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces yesterday dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and said it would rule until general elections take place. The council also formed a committee to introduce constitutional changes, according to a statement read on state television yesterday.

Protesters want the amendments to make it easier to run for president, set term limits on the presidency and cancel the constitutional authority for anti-terrorism measures such as arbitrary arrest, searches and military tribunals. Mass demonstrations forced Mubarak to cede power to the army on Feb. 11, throwing into question the future course of a key U.S. ally.

“It’s a positive sign that they canceled the parliament and suspended the constitution,” Michael Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation in New York, said. “I think from here there needs to be one firm timetable set.”

Middle East markets rose yesterday, with Abu Dhabi’s ADX General Index increasing 0.6 percent to 2,727.71, the highest level since Jan. 13, at the 2 p.m. close in Abu Dhabi. Israel’s TA-25 Index closed up 0.4 percent.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik said yesterday he’ll concentrate on restoring security following more than two weeks of protests and that further unrest may harm the economy. The military council said Shafik’s government would continue to run the affairs of the government until a new one is formed.

Security Situation
“We are focused on the security situation and returning security to the people who have felt its absence,” Shafik, a former air force general named as premier by Mubarak on Jan. 31, said at a Cairo press conference.

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s ambassador to the U.S., said the country doesn’t yet have a timetable for lifting emergency law. Military leaders will end the measure “as conditions stabilize,” Shoukry said on ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour” program.

Shafik spoke after soldiers told protesters to clear parts of Cairo’s central Tahrir Square. Thousands of demonstrators were gathered in the square this afternoon, some chanting, “The demands are the same, this government is a farce,” as state television broadcast the military’s statement.

Other protesters welcomed the announcement.

“This is a very good initiative,” said Mohammed Habashi, an unemployed 27-year-old from south Sinai. He added, though, that “the rest of our demands still have to be met.”

Cars Flow
Soldiers formed a cordon around protesters yesterday morning and cars began to flow again into the square. The army tore down some of the tents used by demonstrators to camp out in the square.

The protests left at least 300 people dead, according to the United Nations, roiled financial markets worldwide and sent yields on Egyptian bonds higher. The North African country’s economy lost $310 million a day during the unrest, Finance Minister Samir Radwan told reporters in Cairo. The economy may need a stimulus package to help create jobs, he said Feb. 12.

The economy may grow between 3.5 percent and 4 percent this fiscal year, Radwan said.

Egypt sold 6.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.1 billion) of treasury bills yesterday, the first auction since Mubarak left office. Yields remained around the highest levels in two years.

A total of 18 artifacts disappeared from the Egyptian Museum during the demonstrations and riots, including two statues of King Tutankhamun, Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said on his website.

The army and police are looking into the matter with people in custody, Hawass said. The missing objects include a gilded wooden statue of Tutankhamun carried by a goddess and a separate statue, also of gilded wood, of the king harpooning.