Middle East

Egypt's military grants itself sweeping powers

Egypt's ruling military has issued a declaration granting itself sweeping powers, as the country awaits results of Sunday's presidential elections.

The document by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf) says new general elections cannot be held until a permanent constitution is drawn up.

Opposition groups condemned the move as amounting to a military coup.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood says unofficial results show its candidate, Mohammed Mursi, has won the election.

The Scaf issued its declaration late on Sunday - just hours after the polls closed.

It confirmed on Monday that it plans to hand over power to the winner of the poll at the end of June.

However, the constitutional declaration issued by the Scaf effectively gives it legislative powers, control over the budget and over who writes the permanent constitution following mass street protests that toppled Mr Mubarak, reports say. It also strips the president of any authority over the army.

'Grave setback'

However, prominent political figure Mohamed ElBaradei already described the document as a "grave setback for democracy and revolution".

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the first round of voting and was the favoured candidate of many in the protest movement, said the declaration was a "seizure of the future of Egypt".

"We will not accept domination by any party," Mr Sabahi said.

Another former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, called the declaration "unconstitutional", while the influential 6 April protest movement called for mass demonstrations on Tuesday against the declaration.

Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood said the declaration was "null and void".

The Brotherhood had earlier urged Egyptians to protect their revolution after the Scaf dissolved parliament - dominated by the Brotherhood - on Saturday.

Two days earlier, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that last year's legislative polls were unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents.

Soldiers have already been stationed around the parliament with orders not to let MPs enter.

Law and order

Mr Mursi ran in Sunday's poll against Ahmed Shafiq, who served as prime minister under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood said Mr Mursi was holding a 52%-48% lead over Mr Shafiq with almost all the vote counted after Sunday's second-round run-off election.

Speaking at his party headquarters, Mr Mursi pledged to be a president for all Egyptians, adding that he would not "seek revenge or settle scores".

Hundreds of Mr Mursi's supporters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate his declaration of victory.

But Mr Shafiq's campaign said it rejected "completely" the victory claimed by Mr Mursi.

"We are astonished by this bizarre behaviour which amounts to a hijacking of the election results," Shafiq campaign official Mahmud Barakeh was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Official results from the Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) will be announced on Thursday, state TV reported.

Polls began closing at 22:00 (20:00 GMT) on Sunday, after voting was extended by two hours.

Turnout appeared to be down compared to the first round, as many voters have expressed scepticism at the choices they faced.

The BBC's Jon Leyne says that there was less enthusiasm in the run-off election than there was for previous rounds of voting, and some called for a boycott or spoiled ballots.

Mr Shafiq has campaigned on a platform of a return to stability and law-and-order which, correspondents say, many find attractive after months of political turmoil.

But to his critics, the former air force officer is the army's unofficial candidate and a symbol of the autocratic days under Mubarak.

Mr Mursi, meanwhile, has cast himself as a revolutionary and part of the movement that overthrew Mubarak, and has promised economic and political reform.

He has also softened his religious stance in an attempt to attract liberals and minorities.

Mr Shafiq came second in last month's first round, in which turnout among the 52 million eligible voters was only 46%. Official results then gave Mr Mursi 24.8% and Mr Shafiq 23.7%.

The Scaf has vowed to hand over power to the winner by 30 June.