Egypt's military-appointed prime minister called for national dialogue to resolve the country's political crisis and pleaded for a two-month calm to restore security after weeks of protests and bloodshed.
Kamal el-Ganzouri also told a news conference that the ruling military,
which took over from longtime leader Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago, was
eager to relinquish power and deliver the country to civilian rule, as
demanded by some activists and those still staging protesters in the
streets around Cairo's Tahrir Square.
"They want to leave today, not tomorrow," he said without elaborating.
Few, if any, of the activists demanding an immediate end to military rule are likely to take up the offer of dialogue. Instead, they are focused on finding ways to persuade and pressure the generals to quickly step aside, such as offering them immunity from prosecution over the deaths of protesters killed in recent clashes with soldiers and police.
At least 100 people have been killed in such confrontations and in sectarian violence since the military took power in February.
The deaths, coupled with the brutality shown by army troops against protesters, including women, have prompted some activists to consider suing the generals in local courts or having them put on trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
For months, activists have criticized the generals' handling of the country during the tumultuous transition, taking aim in particular at their human rights record and their failure to revive the economy or restore security.
Under the military's own timetable for stepping aside, it has pledged to hold presidential elections before the end of June 2012. Staggered parliamentary elections are already under way, with two rounds of voting held. A third and final round is slated for early next month.
The 78-year-old el-Ganzouri, who was appointed by the military last month in a failed attempt to quiet protests, is a veteran of the Mubarak regime. He served in several Cabinet posts for more than a decade before a previous stint as prime minister that began in 1996.
The military's choice of a Mubarak-era figure angered the revolutionaries who saw it as fresh evidence of the military's loyalty to the toppled regime.
"I say to everyone that we must forget the past and move forward in a dialogue with all shades so that Egypt can live in peace," el-Ganzouri said in his appeal Thursday.
"This is a salvation government that came to save the revolution," he said, offering a nod to the revolutionaries behind the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's 29-year rule.
In a possible sign that the military could end its rule earlier than planned, a member of a civilian advisory panel appointed by the military said the generals were prepared to look into proposals to speed up the transition of power.
"The military council wants to reaffirm that it is not interested in power and it wants to hand it over to civilian institutions," panel member Hassan Nafaa said.
He added, however, that there was no consensus yet among the panel's members on any proposals being studied.
The generals have yet to directly comment on such a possibility.
One proposal is for the next parliament to name a coalition government next month to take over the running of the country until a president is elected.
Islamists have dominated the parliamentary vote thus far and were expected to maintain their comfortable lead in next month's final round.
The country's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which has led the Islamists' domination of the voting, has shied away from backing these proposals on the grounds that they should wait until after the elections are completed next month.
The Brotherhood is not represented on the advisory panel, having boycotted it after the generals said the panel would have a role in the drafting of the new constitution, a task the Islamists believe should be exclusively handled by the new legislature.