Polls will go ahead, Egyptian military says

Egypt’s military rulers have apologised for the police killings of demonstrators and vowed to maintain security at next week’s elections despite mass protests and deadly street violence.

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“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square,” it said on its Facebook page.

After a truce negotiated by Muslim clerics, an uneasy calm gripped crowds gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, scene of days of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters demanding an immediate end of military rule.

The SCAF said stepping down would amount to a “betrayal” of the Egyptian people and insisted that parliamentary elections scheduled to start on Monday would take place on time.

“The people have entrusted us with a mission and if we abandon it now, it would be a betrayal of the people,” senior SCAF member General Mukthar al-Mulla told a news conference on Thursday.

“The armed forces do not want to stay in power. We want to put the wishes of the people above all else,” he added.

Another senior SCAF member, Major General Mamduh Shahine, said there would be no delay to the elections, the first since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.

“We will not delay the elections. This is the final word. They will be conducted according to the original dates.”

Mulla said the SCAF, the armed forces and the interior ministry would work together to guarantee the security of the elections.

“We have agreed on a plan of security for the voters, the candidates and the parties,” he said.

Earlier, Egypt’s cabinet said in a statement on Facebook that an agreement has been reached between security forces and protesters to halt the confrontations plaguing Egypt.

At least 38 protesters have been killed since Saturday when the clashes first erupted and more than 2000 injured, prompting concern from Western governments and a UN call for an independent inquiry into the “excessive use of force”.

The US embassy in Cairo on Thursday said it planned to donate $US100,000 ($A102,770) of humanitarian assistance to victims of the violence.

In Tahrir Square, some demonstrators remained unequivocal in their demands.

“I wanted them (the military) to leave power by the end of April, but a massacre took place in the past few days over here,” said law student Ahmed al-Qinawy.

“Now there is one demand, and that is non-negotiable: the military has to go,” he added.

But many Egyptians are worried about the impact on the country of the standoff between the protesters and the army.

“If the military just steps down, there will be chaos. I mean, there is chaos now, so imagine what would happen if the military steps down,” said Essam al-Arabi, whose sells leather handbags near Tahrir Square.

The latest violence has cast a dark shadow over Monday’s poll, a crucial step on the country’s path to democratic rule.

Standard and Poor’s ratings agency said on Thursday that it had cut its long-term rating on Egypt by one notch to B+ due to the deteriorating political and economic outlook.

“The downgrade reflects our opinion that Egypt’s weak political and economic profile … has deteriorated further” following the latest clashes, S&P said.