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Egyptian military dissolves parliament

CAIRO — Egypt's military rulers took sweeping action to dismantle the autocratic legacy of former President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday, dissolving parliament, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters.

They also met with representatives of the broad-based youth movement that brought down the government after an 18-day uprising that transfixed the world.

The caretaker government, backed by the military, said restoring security was a top priority even as labor unrest reflected one of the many challenges of steering the Arab world's biggest nation toward stability and democracy.

Prominent activist Wael Ghonim on Sunday posted on a Facebook page he manages the notes from a meeting between members of the military council and youth representatives, which he described as encouraging.

The military defended the caretaker government, stocked with Mubarak loyalists, as necessary for now in the interests of stability but pledged to change it soon, said Ghonim and another protester, Amr Salama, in the statement.

"They said they will go after corrupt people no matter what their position current or previous," the statement added.

Amendments to the much reviled constitution will be prepared by an independent committee over the next 10 days and then presented for approval in a popular referendum to be held in two months, they said.

The military also encouraged the youth to consider forming political parties — something very difficult to do under the old system — and pledged to meet with them regularly.

"We felt a sincere desire to protect the gains of the revolution and an unprecedented respect for the right of young Egyptians to express their opinions," Ghonim said.

The military council, which has issued a stream of communiques since taking power, said parliamentary and presidential elections will be held, but did not set a time table. It said it will run the country for six months, or until elections can be held.

Protesters are demanding that the constitution be amended to impose term limits on the president, open up competition for the presidency, and remove restrictions on creating political parties. Others want an entirely new constitution.

Judge Hisham Bastawisi, a reformist judge, said the military measures "should open the door for free formation of political parties and open the way for any Egyptian to run for presidential elections."

Hossam Bahgat, director of the nongovernmental Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the steps were positive but warned that Egypt was on uncharted legal ground.

"In the absence of a constitution, we have entered a sort of 'twilight zone' in terms of rules, so we are concerned," he said. "We are clearly monitoring the situation and will attempt to influence the transitional phase so as to respect human rights."

Egypt's state news agency announced banks would be closed today due to strikes and again Tuesday for a public holiday. Dozens of employees protested against alleged corruption at the state television building, which broadcast pro-Mubarak messages during the massive demonstrations against his rule.

The crowds in the protest encampment that became a symbol of defiance against the government thinned out Sunday — the first working day since the regime fell. Traffic flowed through the downtown area for the first time in weeks. Troops cleared most of the makeshift tents and scuffled with holdout activists.

The protesters have been pressing the ruling military council, led by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, to immediately move forward with the transition by appointing a presidential council, dissolving parliament and releasing political prisoners. Thousands have remained in Tahrir Square, and some want to keep up the pressure for immediate steps, including repeal of repressive emergency laws that give police broad power.

As Egypt embarked on its new path, the impact of its historic revolt and an earlier uprising in Tunisia was evident in a region where democratic reform has made few inroads.

Yemeni police clashed Sunday with protesters seeking the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, and opposition groups planned a rally today in Bahrain. Demonstrators have also pushed for change in Jordan and Algeria, inspired by the popular revolt centered in downtown Cairo.

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