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Armed Men Rob Major HSBC Bank in Cairo, Egypt

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A branch of HSBC Bank was robbed on Monday.
A branch of HSBC Bank was robbed on Monday.

CAIRO — Egypt's military rulers are considering ways to speed up the transition to civilian rule, including moving up the date for presidential elections, a spokesman for a civilian body that advises the army said Monday.

The remarks from Mohammed El-Kholy, a member of the civilian panel created by the army to advise it on transition issues, follow a series of mass street protests in the past week to commemorate the first anniversary of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Activists used the anniversary demonstrations to press their demands for the military rulers, who have held power since February, to immediately step down in favor of a civilian president. They protesters say the ruling generals have mismanaged the transition and committed grave human rights violations that they said are worse than those of the Mubarak regime.

El-Kholy said the advisory board is holding special meetings to firm up proposals to the generals on shortening the transition. "This is an effort exerted to end the tension in the streets," he told The Associated Press.

Activists, however, have said the new proposals could inflame tensions because they squeeze the already short timeframe for drafting a new constitution and ignore their demands for the generals to step down immediately.

According to a plan put forward by the military in November, a constituent assembly would draft a new constitution before presidential elections are held by the end of June, when the generals would relinquish power and return to their barracks.

El-Kholy said one of the advisory panel's proposals would move the presidential vote up to May. But for that to happen, the period of time allotted to selecting the 100-member assembly as well the time set aside for the constitution would have to be shortened.

The panel plans to present its suggestions to the generals by Wednesday, he said.

In a sign that the military rulers are moving ahead with plans to hold the presidential elections, a copy of a new presidential law was published in the official Egyptian Gazette. The law stipulates that candidates must get the backing of at least 30 lawmakers or 30,000 citizens. Also, candidates must be Egyptian-born and not dual nationals, and cannot be married to a foreigner.

The law was issued five days before the new parliament convened for its first session on Jan. 23, and critics pointed to it as an example of the military tightly controlling the transition process, and stepping on the powers of the newly elected parliament.

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that controls nearly half of the seats in the legislature, denied that the military was bypassing parliament, and welcomed the law.

"We don't want to create a crisis. This is not a problem at all," said Ahmed Abou Baraka, noting that the parliament still has the right to review the law.

Both the makeup of the constituent assembly and the constitution have become a flashpoint among Egypt's power brokers – the Islamist groups that dominate the country's first elected parliament since the uprising, the ruling generals and the youth groups that have led the protests.

The largely secular and urban youth groups fear a deal between the military and the Islamists in which the generals would have a future say in politics in return for the Islamists having a hold on authority and influence over the writing of a new constitution, effectively shelving fundamental political reforms.

The activists' response has been to campaign for an immediate end to military rule, and calling for the army to return to its barracks before a constitution be written and a president elected.

A rally is planned for Tuesday to press the parliament to adopt their demands, either forming a parliamentary committee to oversee the presidential elections or for parliament to chose a temporary president until a constitution is drafted.

Ziad el-Oleimi, a youth leader and new member of parliament, said the military is further complicating matters with the panel's suggestions. "Is it really what we need, a shorter period for writing the constitution?" he said.

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