A coalition led by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has threatened to boycott parliament elections scheduled for late November unless the country's military rulers amend a disputed new electoral law.
A joint statement posted Wednesday on the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party website demanded changes that would effectively prevent many supporters of former president Hosni Mubarak from running for office.
The bloc objects to a controversial measure under which political parties are not allowed to contest a third of the seats in parliament, which are reserved for independent candidates. Many Egyptian political groups say the restriction would make it easier for former members of Mubarak's now-banned National Democratic Party to run.
The statement was signed by the Democratic Alliance, a large electoral coalition that includes Freedom and Justice - Egypt's most powerful political party - as well as the liberal Wafd Party.
The alliance also demanded the ruling military council pass a law that would ban officials involved in the misuse of power under Mr. Mubarak from running in elections for the next 10 years.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would like to see Egypt’s interim administration end emergency rule as soon as possible.
Clinton suggested Egypt's democratic transition would be impeded if emergency rule is not lifted sooner than the June 2012 date set by the military. The widely despised law was tightened after a mob attack earlier this month on the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
The top U.S. diplomat praised Egypt's leaders for helping defuse tensions with Israel after the September 9 assault and acknowledged the key role it expects Cairo to play in forging a Mideast peace accord.
Clinton's Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, said his country would like to see Israel and the Palestinians resume direct peace negotiations as soon as possible. Amr also called Israeli settlement activity an impediment to peace that must be stopped.
Earlier Wednesday, an Egyptian court sentenced former information minister Anas al-Fiqqi to seven years in prison on corruption charges for squandering public money.
The Cairo court also handed down a five-year sentence to former state television chief Osama el-Sheikh on similar charges. Egyptian courts have already convicted several other members of Mr. Mubarak's government.
The former president himself is on trial for corruption, abuse of power and complicity in the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising that led to his resignation earlier this year. He has denied the charges.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.