CAIRO, Mar 4 – Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq has resigned unexpectedly, sparking celebrations from protesters who want a purge of the remnants of ousted president Hosni Mubarak\’s regime.
The country\’s military rulers said Thursday that Shafiq would be replaced by Essam Sharaf, a former transport minister who joined the rallies in Cairo\’s Tahrir Square that led to Mubarak\’s resignation on February 11.
Egypt\’s bourse, which closed a month ago when nationwide anti-regime protests erupted, said it would announce resumption of trading after discussions with the new prime minister.
Strongman Mubarak appointed Shafiq in the dying days of his rule in a bid to quell the protests. Shafiq stayed on as head of a caretaker government under a military council that has run Egypt since Mubarak stood down.
"The Supreme Council of Military Forces announces that it has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq," the council said in a statement, without giving reasons for the move.
Dozens of youth activists who are still camped out in Tahrir Square celebrated after Shafiq\’s resignation was announced, the state news agency MENA reported.
Since Mubarak\’s fall, protesters have continued to call for replacing the current government, which includes the Mubarak-era foreign minister, interior minister and justice minister.
Activists had put forward Sharaf\’s name during talks with the military on Sunday in which they also called for rapid, profound changes toward democracy.
"We are happy, we had proposed his name and our demand has been accepted," Shadi al-Ghazali, a leader of the youth movement, told AFP.
Key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the Vienna-based UN atomic watchdog from 1997 to 2009 and returned to Egypt to join the protests, welcomed Shafiq\’s resignation.
"We are on the right track, I express my sincere appreciation to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces who have accepted the demand of the people," he tweeted.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she hoped the move would facilitate Egypt\’s transition to democracy.
Noting Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq\’s resignation and Essam Sharaf\’s appointment to form a new government, Ashton said she hoped the transition phase would now "make meaningful progress towards an inclusive and broad-based government that responds to the citizens\’ democratic aspirations."
Ashton said the goal was to move forward to "deep democracy, free and fair competitive elections" and respect for human rights and freedoms.
Egypt\’s military council had previously ordered the government to run the country\’s affairs for six months "or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections" and is also examining constitutional reforms.
Shafiq, a former aviation minister with ties to the military, had been expected to stay in office at least until the elections.
His successor Sharaf, a professor of engineering at Cairo University, was transport minister from 2002 to 2005 and was sacked amid differences with then-premier Ahmad Nazif.
Last month\’s revolt left at least 384 dead and more than 6,000 injured but forced Mubarak out of office after three decades.
Egypt\’s military council met a group including ElBaradei and Arab League chief Amr Mussa on Tuesday to discuss upcoming reforms.
The talks focused on constitutional reform, especially on the conditions for presidential candidates and the reduction of the number of terms allowed to a maximum two of four years, instead of an unlimited number of six-year terms, state media said.
Mussa said last month he would run as a candidate in the next presidential elections.