CAIRO (AP) - Egypt's military ruler says the armed forces are prepared to hold a referendum on immediately transferring power to a civilian authority if people demand it.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi also told the nation in a televised address Tuesday that presidential elections will be held before June 30, but did not specifically mention a date for the transfer of power.
In his brief address, Tantawi sought to cast the military as the nation's foremost patriots and angrily denounced what he called attempts to taint its reputation.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square immediately rejected Tantawi's proposal with chants of "erhal," or leave.
"We are not leaving, he leaves," chanted the protesters, demanding that military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his council of generals immediately give up power to a civilian transitional authority. "The people want to bring down the field marshal," they shouted in scenes starkly reminiscent of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.
Aboul-Ela Madi and Mohammed Selim el-Awa, two politicians who attended a five-hour crisis meeting with the military rulers, said the generals accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's government and will form a "national salvation" Cabinet to replace it.
Previously, the military rulers had floated late next year or early 2013 as the timetable for transferring power.
The military's concession came less than a week before the first
parliamentary election since the ouster nine months ago of longtime authoritarian ruler Mubarak. The elections are staggered over three months.
"Our demands are clear. We want the military council to step down and hand over authority to a national salvation government with full authority," said Khaled El-Sayed, a member of the Youth Revolution Coalition and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election.
The commander of the Military Police and the Interior Minister, who is in charge of the police, must be tried for the "horrific crimes" of the past few days, he added.
"This is the maximum we can reach. The (Tahrir) square is something and the politics is something else," Madi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He and Al-Awa were among 12 political party representatives and presidential hopefuls who attended the meeting with the military council. Not all parties were represented.