Egypt's embattled ruling generals bowed to key demands of protesters last night as the biggest rally since the February uprising forced them to promise a handover to civilian rule by July next year.
On the back of the worst violence since the last days of President Hosni Mubarak, politicians who met the military council for crisis talks said the interim leaders had agreed to set a date for presidential elections – a key demand of activists. There was even an offer of a referendum on the immediate transfer of power to civilian rule.
The announcement came after scenes reminiscent of the protests that eventually toppled the former regime, as tens of thousands of Egyptians flocked to the centre of Cairo to demand a handover to civilian rule before a 2013 deadline.
"We agreed July as the month to transfer power to a civilian president," said Emad Abdel Ghafour, leader of the fundamentalist Islamic Al-Nour Party, who was at the cross-party meeting. He added that a new head of state would be sworn in after June's presidential election, ending military rule.
Egypt's generals also accepted yesterday's resignation of Prime Minster Essam Sharaf and his government, paving the way for a "national salvation" interim government.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the de facto head of state who has been the focus of anti-military chants this week, confirmed the military's plan to leave power as an enormous crowd gathered in Tahrir Square on a day protesters called the "march of the million". In a further boon to the activists, he met another demand – to stop using military courts to try civilians.
But the crowds in Tahrir Square to hear his address were not satisfied. "We are not leaving, he leaves," the protesters chanted. "The people want to bring down the Field Marshal."
Four days of rioting across the country have made parts of Cairo resemble a war zone. At least 33 people have been killed during the clashes. There had been fears that the violence would derail next week's parliamentary elections, Egypt's first democratic poll.