WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that she hoped that Egypt would lift its emergency law before June 2012, the date set by the new military rulers in Cairo.

"We have encouraged and continue to encourage the government to lift the state of emergency," Clinton said during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.

"We hope to see the law lifted sooner than that (2012) because we think that is an important step to the way to the rule of law," she added.

Clinton also said it is a key step to "the kind of system of checks and balances that are important in protecting the rights of the Egyptian people, to create the context for free and democratic elections.

"We want to see this as soon as possible... We will continue to raise it," Clinton said.

Egypt's military said on Wednesday that the country's decades-old emergency law is designed to be in place until June 2012 as decreed by law, but left the door open to having it lifted or amended.

The controversial law -- which has been continuously in place since Islamists assassinated president Anwar Sadat in 1981 -- had been regularly extended under the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) recently widened the scope of the law -- restricted in 2010 to narcotics and terrorism -- to include labor strikes, traffic disruption and the spread of false information.

The decision to expand the law came after Egyptian protesters clashed with police after demonstrators stormed a building housing the Israeli embassy, forcing the mission's evacuation.

The military had promised that parliamentary elections scheduled by the end of the year would not be conducted under a state of emergency.