CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resigned unexpectedly Thursday, sparking celebrations from protesters who demand a purge of the remnants of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
The country’s military rulers said he 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.
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 the fall of Mubarak, protesters have continued to call for a replacement of the current government, which includes the Mubarak-era foreign minister, interior minister and justice minister.
They had put forward Sharaf’s name during talks with the military on Sunday during which they also called for rapid, profound changes towards democracy.
“We are happy, we had proposed his name and our demand has been accepted,” Shadi al-Ghazali, one of the leaders of the youth movement, told AFP.
Key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the Vienna-based UN International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009 and returned to Egypt join the protests, welcomed Shafiq’s resignation.
On Twitter, he said: “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.”
The 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.
Nazif was himself sacked four days after the anti-Mubarak protests erupted on January 25.
The revolt left at least 384 dead and more than 6,000 injured but forced Mubarak out of office after three decades.
Mubarak, 82, is currently receiving medical treatment for cancer in Saudi Arabia, a state-owned Egyptian newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Al-Akhbar said that Mubarak left for the Saudi city of Tabuk days after he resigned, and well before the new Egyptian authorities slapped a travel ban on him at the weekend.
Sources told the paper Mubarak’s wife Suzanne and his two sons Alaa and Gamal — long considered his father’s possible successor — were also living on the Tabuk military base.
The state news agency MENA said Egypt’s military council had 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, it said.
Mussa said last month he would be a candidate for Egyptian president.