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Egypt military says parliament dissolved

By Samer al-Atrush

CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt's military told parliament on Saturday it has been dissolved and banned its members from entering the house after a court annulled the last legislative poll, official media and a senior MP said.

The Islamist Freedom of Justice Party (FJP) which dominates the house called for a referendum on the decision and accused the ruling generals of wanting to monopolise power ahead of a planned handover to civilian rule by July.

The Islamist-led parliament received a notice saying that Egypt's ruling generals had decided "to consider parliament dissolved," the official MENA news agency reported.

The decision is already being implemented and lawmakers are now barred from entering parliament without prior authorisation, the agency reported.

"Constant threats to dissolve parliament, elected with the will of 30 million Egyptians, confirm the military council's desire to monopolise power," the Brotherhood's political arm, the FJP, said in a statement.

"Dissolving the elected parliament must go to a fair referendum," it added.

Essam al-Erian, deputy head of parliament's dominant Freedom and Justice party, said parliament received a notice from the military-appointed cabinet saying military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi declared the house dissolved.

The generals "decided in application of the constitutional court ruling to consider parliament dissolved," Erian said, reading from the text.

The court on Thursday nullified parliament, saying the electoral law that oversaw last winter's election was unconstitutional.

The decision came as a further blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, the FJP's mother organisation, that is fielding a candidate in this weekend's presidential election against Hosni Mubarak regime figure Ahmed Shafiq.

Although it won the most seats in the parliamentary and senate elections, the Islamist movement has been losing support as dissatisfied voters flock to Shafiq, who has promised to restore the country's stability.

The largely powerless senate was not affected by the court's decision, which ruled the lower house illegitimate because party members contested seats initially meant for independents.

Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, also an FJP member, said an interim constitution drawn up by the military after president Mubarak's overthrow in an uprising last year did not hand the generals the power to disband parliament.

The interim constitution "contains no clear provision, or one that is open to interpretation, that allows any party to implement this ruling," he said in a statement.

Katatni added that parliament's legal and constitutional committee has been asked to study the ruling, and that disbanding parliament required a constitutional basis and a referendum.

Parliament earlier this month had appointed a constituent assembly to draft a charter to replace the one annulled by the military after it took charge of the country following Mubarak's overthrow on February 11 2011.

The United States, the Egyptian military's chief foreign benefactor, on Friday said it was troubled by the constitutional court's ruling to annul parliament.

"We are troubled by the court ruling yesterday that will effectively dissolve a democratically elected parliament," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.