Middle East

Egypt military 'appoints Kamal Ganzouri as new PM'

Egypt's military rulers have appointed ex-Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri to form a new government, state media say.

The previous military-appointed civilian cabinet resigned earlier this week in the wake of violent protests in Cairo and other cities.

The military council has said parliamentary elections will begin across Egypt next week as scheduled.

Clashes near Cairo's Tahrir Square have subsided but activists are calling for renewed protests on Friday.

Large numbers of demonstrators are spending the night in the square ahead of a mass rally after Friday prayers.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) is overseeing a transition to civilian rule following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Despite promises by the council to speed up the process, many Egyptians fear the military intends to cling to power.

Mr Ganzouri headed Egypt's government from 1996 to 1999 under Mr Mubarak.

State newspaper al-Ahram said on its website that Mr Ganzouri had agreed in principle to lead a national salvation government after meeting Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council.

Mr Ganzouri, who has distanced himself from Mr Mubarak's regime, has been suggested as a possible presidential candidate.

Military apology

The BBC's Yolande Knell, in Cairo, says Mr Ganzouri was in talks with military leaders earlier on Thursday.

During his term as prime minister, he was known as the "minister of the poor" because he was seen as representing the less well-off, and he remains popular with Egyptians, she says.

Earlier on Thursday, military leaders apologised for the deaths of about 38 protesters in clashes with police since Saturday.

The violence has been the worst since February.

Maj Gen Muhammad al-Assar expressed "the regret and apology of the entire armed forces on the tragedy that occurred".

He added: "Our hearts bled for what happened. We hope that this crisis will end and, God willing, it will not be repeated again."

Troops have set up barriers near Tahrir Square to keep protesters at bay

Activists are urging mass protests on what they call "the Friday of the last chance" to demand an immediate transfer to civilian rule. They want Monday's elections postponed until the military steps down.

However, many other Egyptians want elections to go ahead unhindered. The main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not supporting the protests and expects to do well in the polls.

Much of the violence has taken place in a street leading from Tahrir Square to the interior ministry.

Soldiers have now set up barricades of cement, metal bars and barbed wire to separate protesters and security forces.

On Tuesday, Field Marshal Tantawi accepted the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet and summoned political leaders to discuss a way forward.

He sought to defuse the protests by promising presidential elections by June - six months sooner than planned.