Egyptian Military Budges in Face of Tahrir Square Protesters

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square.

ByABC News
November 22, 2011, 2:09 PM

CAIRO Nov. 22, 2011— -- The head of Egypt's interim military government pledged today to hold a referendum on transferring power to a civilian government, but throngs of angry protesters insisted instead that the military give up power immediately.

Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military government, addressed the nation in an effort to defuse the anger of the protesters that packed Cairo's Tahrir Square in a show of force similar to the demonstrations that brought down longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last February.

Tantawi said he would move up presidential elections to June 2012 and would hold a referendum on having the military relinquish power immediately if necessary. Currently, the transfer of power to civilian rule is scheduled for late 2012 or 2013.

Tantawi also announced that parliamentary elections will take place as scheduled on Nov. 28.

His proposal was was met with angry chants of "irhal," or leave, from the tens of thousands of protesters who have filled Tahrir Square for the past four days. At times another chant rose claiming, "The people want the regime to fall."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland today called Tantawi's promises "important reassurances," and said the U.S. would hold the Egyptian military to its pledges.

The protesters have been faced with harsh measures by Egyptian security forces throughout the demonstrations, with nearly 30 reported deaths since the demonstrations began on Saturday.

The tough measures got a rebuke today from the U.S. State Department.

"The United States remains very concerned about the violence in Egypt. We condemn the excessive force used by the police, and we strongly urge the Egyptian government to exercise maximum restraint, to discipline its forces, and to protect the universal rights of all Egyptians to peacefully express themselves," Nuland said.

Security forces have largely stood down today, although there are reports of hostilities, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, on the side streets surrounding the area.

In his address, Tantawi sought to paint the military as patriots, saying that the army would never kill Egyptians, instead arguing that their job is to protect the people and the country.

ABC News' Kirit Radia contributed to this report