Egypt's military warns of plots on eve of strike

February 10, 2012 - 6:05 PM
APTOPIX Mideast Egypt

Egyptian protesters wave national flags and chant anti-Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) slogans during a protest after Friday prayers in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military rulers warned Friday that the country faces conspiracies that seek to topple the state and spread chaos, in a message intended to undermine activists who plan to mark the anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow with anti-army protests.

The statement from the council of generals who took power when Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011, came on the eve of a planned general strike aimed at pressuring the military to give up power.

Protest groups have grown harshly critical of the military's handling of Egypt's transition to democracy, accusing the army of trying to protect its power and committing human rights violations that rival those of Mubarak's regime. Thousands rallied outside the defense ministry Friday to call for the immediate transition of power to a civilian authority.

In a statement read on state TV Friday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would not bow to pressures to accelerate the transition.

"Never will we bow to threats, nor succumb to pressures, nor accept ultimatums," it said.

The message said the army had played an essential role in Egypt's transition and warned of plots that seek to strike "a mortal blow" to the revolution by sewing discord between the army and the people.

Without naming any culprits, it said Egypt was facing great threats.

"We face conspiracies hatched against the homeland, whose goal is to undermine the institutions of the Egyptian state and whose aim is to topple the state itself so that chaos reigns and destruction spreads," it said.

Egyptian officials and military leaders have often blamed unnamed actors and "foreign hands" for fomenting unrest.

In the statement, the generals said they remained bound by the plan to pass executive power to an elected president before June 30.

The generals and the military-backed Cabinet have been critical of the strike call, casting it as another example of foreign attempts to weaken Egypt. The state media and a Facebook page affiliated with the ruling generals accused the U.S. of using local institutions to agitate for the strike.

On Friday, the army deployed tanks and armored vehicles at various points around Cairo in anticipation of protests. Army vehicles were posted at the state TV building, prominent ministries, the Cabinet building, the Central Bank and elsewhere.

It is unclear how many people will participate in the strike.

Continued unrest since Mubarak's ouster has battered Egypt's economy, leading some to criticize the continued protests for preventing a recovery.

Some protests calls have also put activists at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best organized political group, which won nearly 50 percent of the country's newly elected parliament. The Brotherhood, prominent religious figures and others condemned the strike on the grounds that it could hurt the economy.

Hours before Friday's statement, several thousand protesters marching from different parts of Cairo converged on the Ministry of Defense, chanting against the military rulers. They found approaches to the ministry blocked with barbed wire and guarded by military police.

Protester Ahmed Hassan, 26, said the march sought to push the generals from power.

"They don't know negotiations. They only know pressure," he said, also calling for the military rulers to stand trial for the deaths of protesters in recent waves of unrest. "A safe exit for the generals was possible before the violence. Now there is blood. They must be tried."

Also on Friday, Cairo airport officials banned a British woman from leaving the country because she is being targeted in a criminal investigation into foreign-funded organizations.

The investigation has caused the most serious rift in decades between Egypt and the United States, and U.S. officials have warned that the crackdown on NGOs could block $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt.

The woman joins a list of at least 10 foreigners, including six Americans, who have been barred from traveling as part of the investigation.

Egyptian judges have referred 43 people including 16 Americans to trial on accusations they illegally used foreign funds to foment unrest in the country. The rest of the accused are Egyptians and Europeans.

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Sarah El Deeb contributed reporting.