By Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
Interim Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf made sweeping changes to his Cabinet on Sunday in a move to calm nine days of protests in Tahrir Square against the nation’s ruling military council and the slow pace of political reform.
Sharaf promised last week to reshuffle his government and purge the Interior Ministry of police officers and top officials accused in the deaths of more than 800 protesters during the crackdown on the revolution that toppled PresidentÂ Hosni Mubarak in February.
News of the Cabinet shake-up came hours before conflicting reports surfaced over Mubarak’s health. The former president’s lawyer said the 83-year-old Mubarak had suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. The account was quickly denied by officials at the hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik where Mubarak has been staying since April. Doctors quoted by state media said Mubarak’s condition was stable after a drop in blood pressure.
The former leader’s health has been a pressing concern for many Egyptians, who believe Mubarak is maneuvering to delay his Aug. 3 trial on allegations of financial corruption and ordering the killing of protesters.
“Every now and then we hear some development about Mubarak’s health from his lawyer and then medical officials come out and deny it,” said Mahmoud Ouda, one of the protesters in Tahrir Square. “We don’t know who to believe anymore and that’s why we want him to be tried as quickly as possible. We don’t want someone coming out and saying he’s too ill to be taken to court.”
Sharaf’s new Cabinet includes Mohamed Kamel Omar in place of Mohamed Orabi as foreign minister; Hazem Beblawi to replace Samir Radwan as finance minister, and Ahmed Fekri in place of Samir Sayad as trade minister. The biggest surprise was the removal of Zahi Hawass as minister of antiquities. The reputation of Hawass, who was known for his flamboyance, trademark hat and appearances on National Geographicdocumentaries, had dimmed over questionable business deals and his close relationship with the Mubaraks.
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