Egypts military ruler warns crisis must end

CAIRO – Egypt’s military ruler warned of “extremely grave” consequences if the turbulent nation does not pull through its current crisis and urged voters to turn out for landmark parliamentary elections starting Monday.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi claimed “foreign hands” were behind the latest wave of unrest, an assertion similar to those made by Hosni Mubarak in his final days in power before he was ousted in a popular uprising in February. Tantawi was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years.

In comments carried by the nation’s official news agency, Tantawi rejected calls for him and other generals on the ruling military council he heads to immediately step down.

The warning came as thousands of protesters were filling Cairo’s Tahrir Square for another massive demonstration to push for him and the other generals to immediately return to their barracks in favor of a civilian presidential council and a “national salvation” government to run the country’s affairs until a president is elected. It was the ninth straight day of a revival of the protest movement that toppled Mubarak.

At least 41 protesters have been killed and more than 2,000 have been wounded, most of them in Cairo.

The military took the reins of power when Mubarak was ousted. But it has come under intense criticism for most of the past nine months for its failure to restore security, stop the rapid worsening of the economy or introduce the far-reaching reforms called for by the youth groups behind Mubarak’s fall and the ongoing protest movement.

Tantawi said the military will follow through with its somewhat vague road map for handing over power. The ruling council never set a precise date for transferring authority to an elected civilian administration, only pledging that presidential elections – the last step in the handover process – will be held before the end of June 2012.

“We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in the elections,” he said. “Egypt is at a crossroads – either we succeed politically, economically and socially or the consequences will be extremely grave, and we will not allow that.”

Tantawi also accused foreign powers he did not name of meddling in Egypt’s affairs.

“None of this would have happened if there were no foreign hands,” he said. “We will not allow a small minority of people who don’t understand to harm Egypt’s stability,” he said, apparently alluding to the protesters in Tahrir, epicenter of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.