WASHINGTON — The United States Tuesday praised Egypt's decision to lift a decades-old state of emergency and hand power to the parliament as "major steps toward the normalization of political life."

But Washington was still seeking clarification of "a little footnote" to the announcement by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who said he would lift the emergency law except in cases of "thuggery," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Tantawi announced the move on television, a day after he handed legislative powers to the new Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament, which convened for the first time since a popular uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak in February.

"So these are obviously good steps. Taken together, these actions represent major steps forward in the normalization of political life in Egypt," Nuland told reporters.

The controversial emergency law, which gives police wide powers of arrest and suspends constitutional rights, has been vehemently criticized at home and abroad.

But Tantawi's use of the term "thuggery" is controversial, with activists repeatedly accusing the military of using the term to stifle political dissent.

"We are seeking some clarification from the Egyptian government... what they mean by that," Nuland said, referring to the term "thuggery."

"But the fact that they are finally, after these many, many months of demands, taking the major step is very important for Egypt and for its future," she said.

The move is an apparent bid to placate protesters who have planned mass protests on Wednesday to keep pushing for democratic change, exactly a year after an uprising in Tunisia inspired Egyptians to take to the streets to oust veteran president Hosni Mubarak.