Egypt government resigns, paving way for Sisi to seek presidency

CAIRO Mon Feb 24, 2014 6:03pm IST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's government has resigned, the prime minister said on Monday, paving the way for army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare his candidacy for president of a strategic U.S. ally gripped by political strife.

"(The government) made every effort to get Egypt out of the narrow tunnel in terms of security, economic pressures and political confusion," Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a live nationwide speech.

Beblawi, who was tasked by interim President Adly Mansour with running the government's affairs until the election, did not give a clear reason for the decision.

For Sisi to run for president he would first need to leave his post as defence minister. "This (government resignation) was done as a step that was needed ahead of Sisi's announcement that he will run for president," an Egyptian official said.

He told Reuters that the cabinet had resigned en masse as Sisi did not want to appear to be acting alone.

The top military commander has unveiled a political roadmap meant to lead to elections after toppling Islamist President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July following mass protests against his rule.

The vote is expected within months in Egypt, which has great geo-strategic importance due to its peace treaty with Israel and control over the Suez Canal, a vital global shipping lane that is the shortest between Asia and Europe.

Egypt's stock market rose 0.26 percent after news of the government's departure to 8029.37 points, reversing losses from earlier in the day.

Mursi's removal triggered the bloodiest political crisis in Egypt's modern history, with security forces killing hundreds of Brotherhood supporters, jailing thousands and putting top leaders on trial.

The Muslim Brotherhood accused Sisi of plotting a coup, and human rights groups say that abuses under his watch are growing by the day, allegations the army-backed government denies.

The government has also cracked down on some secular activists who were instrumental in unrest that overthrew autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and who supported Mursi's removal. They are languishing in prisons and face trial.

Compounding the instability in the Arab world's largest country, Islamist militants based in the widely lawless Sinai Peninsula have intensified attacks on police and soldiers, killing hundreds.

The Sinai-based group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing which killed two South Koreans last week, inflicting yet more harm on a tourism industry already gutted by political turmoil and protests.

Ansar also said that it was behind high-profile assassinations of top Interior Ministry officials.

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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