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Angry crowds in Egypt as West warns military over power grab

Mass protests were called across Egypt on Tuesday against the ruling military council's bid to grab new powers, as the United States and Britain called for a swift transfer of leadership.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has claimed victory in the country’s presidential election, urged demonstrations against generals who issued decrees dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament and claiming all legislative power for themselves.

Regional news channel, Al Jazeera, reported crowds had already started gathering in Tahrir Square late Tuesday. Protesters also gathered in Egypt's second city of Alexandria, Reuters said.


However, there was little hope of unity among the parties hoping to lead the new Egypt into a new era beyond military rule.

A spokesman for Ahmed Shafik, the former prime minister who served in the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, claimed victory in the presidential election described the assertion by the Muslim Brotherhood as “false”, Al Jazeera said.

"What we have at the moment is both sides claiming they have won, and both sides are using exactly the same figures,” said Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna.

Egypt's passage from revolution to democracy was in limbo on Monday, as the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory in a presidential election while the generals who took over from Hosni Mubarak decreed it was they who would keep power for now. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

The official results are not expected until Thursday.

Egypt’s ruling army council, which took control when Mubarak was driven from office last year, issued an 11th-hour decree assuming legislative powers until a new parliament is elected, and keeping control of army affairs. 

The decree came out on Sunday as counting for the presidential vote was under way. Days earlier the army had implemented a court ruling to dissolve the Islamist-led parliament, stripping the Brotherhood of its biggest gain since Mubarak was ousted. 

The United States urged Egypt's military to move swiftly on plans to transfer full power to an elected civilian government on Monday, and suggested failure to do so would prompt a review of U.S. ties, which includes billions of dollars in military and civilian aid. 

Military guards Egypt power as Islamists claim victory

Both the State Department and the Pentagon - which oversees the close military links between the two countries - voiced concerns over moves by Egypt's generals to tighten their grip on power despite a presidential vote aimed at sealing the country's democratic future. 

The military power grab represents a dilemma for the Obama administration, which publicly backed the revolution that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak last year but also sees the Egyptian army as a crucial regional security partner. 

At the same time, some in Washington may share the Egyptian military's wariness of the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Islamist group whose candidate some reports said was leading in Egypt's presidential vote. 

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Egypt was at a critical juncture and the United States was "concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military's hold on power." 

"We call on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to restore popular and international confidence in the democratic transition process by following through on their stated commitments," Nuland told a news briefing. 

The United States, the main financial supporter of Egypt's military, will hold the council to its promises for an inclusive constitutional drafting process, the timely seating of a democratically elected parliament, and the swift, permanent transfer of power to a civilian government, Nuland said. 

"They've made a commitment to the Egyptian people, and we want to see them meet it," Nuland said. 

"This is an evolving situation that we are watching closely. The decisions that are taken in this crucial period are naturally going to have an impact on the nature of our engagement with the government and with the SCAF moving forward," she said. 

The concerns were echoed on Tuesday by Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said: ““We were concerned by recent announcements of the dissolution of Parliament and the reintroduction of powers of arrest and detention for the military.  The process of drafting a new, inclusive Constitution and the holding of new parliamentary elections should be taken forward as soon as possible.

“The UK will continue to support the people of Egypt in their aspirations for greater economic opportunities, political participation, freedom and rights, and to that end work with the Egyptian leadership elected by the people.”

The Obama administration in March formally released $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt despite Cairo's failure to meet pro-democracy goals, saying U.S. national security required continued military assistance. 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived congressional conditions imposed late last year that tied U.S. aid to progress in Egypt's transition to democracy following Mubarak's ouster. 

Egypt has received more than $1 billion annually in U.S. military aid for years, and Congress has also approved $250 million in economic aid and up to $60 million for an "enterprise fund" for this fiscal year, which ends on September 30. 

Political analysts said the latest move by the Egyptian military had forced the United States into a difficult position 

"The United States has to decide if it wants to be associated with this counter-revolution by the military," said Michele Dunne, director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. 

"They have to be asking themselves now whether waiving those conditions on the (military) aid was wise." 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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