Mubarak-appointed PM resigns

Egypt's military rulers say the prime minister appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak has resigned, meeting a key demand of the opposition protest movement.

Military picks former transport minister to form cabinet

Egypt's military appointed Ahmed Shafiq talks as prime minister after rejecting ousted president Hosni Mubarak's choice for the post. ((Amr Nabil/Associated))

Egypt's military rulers say the prime minister appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak has resigned, meeting a key demand of the opposition protest movement.

The Tunisian uprising in January touched off a wave of similar demonstrations and rebellions in the Middle East and North Africa. Here is a quick look at some of the unrest in the now-volatile regions.

Former air force officer Ahmed Shafiq was named prime minister by Mubarak shortly after the Jan. 25 outbreak of massive anti-government protests.

Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11, but Shafiq stayed in office at the head of a caretaker government.

Leaders of the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down have been pressing the military to fire Shafiq, arguing that a prime minister sworn in by the ousted leader should not stay in office.

A brief statement posted Thursday by the military on its official website said it had chosen former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf as the new prime minister and tasked him with forming a new cabinet to run the government throughout a transition back to civilian rule.

The prompt acceptance by the military of Shafiq's resignation shows the sensitivity of the ruling generals to the demands of the uprising's leaders, but many in Egypt now believe the military should put its foot down and focus on restoring law and order in this country of 80 million people.

PM must tackle crime, economic woes

Egypt has been gripped by a crime wave it had not seen in living memory, with a marked rise in armed robberies, arson and street battles between rival criminal gangs over territory. Demoralized and hated by many for their perceived brutality against protesters, security forces have yet to fully take back the streets. They numbered around 500,000 on the eve of the protests.

The military police, meanwhile, has stepped in to fill the vacuum, but its personnel don't have the intelligence capabilities or the manpower to efficiently police the country.

Beside security, one of the main tasks now facing Sharaf is to revive the economy hard hit by the protests. The stock market has been closed for more than a month and foreign tourists have only begun to trickle back in small numbers.

Investor confidence has been badly hit too by the dozens of criminal investigations into corruption allegations against senior officials from the former regime.

Invitation to hold talks accepted in Bahrain

In Bahrain, opposition groups have accepted Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa's  invitation to hold talks on political reforms.

Protesters have been demanding regime change in Bahrain for the past two weeks. ((Hasan Jamali/Associated Press))

Since mid-February, protesters have been staging daily marches against the Sunni-led government.

Seven people were killed and hundreds wounded when security forces moved in to break up protesters on Manama's Pearl Square on Feb. 17.

"We will talk to the crown prince, but we are not going to sit together for a casual chat, but for a meaningful dialogue only," said Abdul Jalil Khalil, a leader of Bahrain's main Shia group Al Wefaq.

Khalil said no date has been set for the beginning of the talks. The opposition groups will present their demands and a "framework for dialogue" later on Thursday, he said.

The opposition has previously called for formation of a constitutional monarchy that would have an elected government.

Bahrain is a U.S. key ally in the Gulf, hosting the Navy's 5th Fleet. The island's Sunni dynasty has ruled Bahrain's majority Shias for 200 years. The ruling family has strong backing from other Gulf Arab leaders, who fear that Shia powerhouse Iran could gain further footholds through the uprising.

Tunisians to vote July 24

Tunisia's interim president has called for new legislative elections to be held July 24.

Caretaker President Fouad Mebazaa says the vote will elect representatives for a constitutional assembly tasked with writing a new constitution.

Mebazza made the announcement in a nationally televised addressThursday.