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Egypt's govt gets to work

In the worst single incident this month, troops shot dead 53 protesters at Cairo's Republican Guard compound.

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi demonstrates on 16 July, 2013 in the centre of Cairo.Picture:AFP

CAIRO - Egypt's interim government sets about the mammoth task of returning the country to civilian rule and rescuing the economy on Wednesday, a process complicated by deadly protests and a political stalemate with powerful Islamist groups.

Interim head of state Adli Mansour, the burly judge leading the army-backed administration, swore in 33 mainly liberal and technocratic ministers at the presidential palace on Tuesday.

He did not include a single minister representing either of Egypt's main Islamist groups that have won five straight elections since 2011.

Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was ousted by the military on July 3 after millions took to the streets to demand his resignation. Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement insists he be returned to power before it joins the political process.

The Brotherhood rejected the interim government led by Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, a veteran liberal economist.

"It's an illegitimate government, an illegitimate prime minister, an illegitimate cabinet," said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad. "We don't recognise anyone in it. We don't even recognise their authority as representatives of the government."

The ministers took up their posts hours after seven people were killed and more than 260 wounded when Brotherhood supporters clashed with police in central Cairo and nearby Giza.

The deaths took the number of people killed in clashes since Mursi's overthrow to at least 99.

The interim government has a daunting task ahead to drag the Egyptian economy out of its torpor, after two and a half years of upheaval left state coffers and food stocks running dangerously low.

TROUBLED ECONOMY

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait - rich Gulf Arab monarchies happy to see the fall of the Brotherhood - have promised a total of $12 billion in cash, loans and fuel.

But investors are sceptical that major reforms can be enacted before a permanent government is in place. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held in about six months.

New Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi has said Arab aid would sustain Egypt through its transition and that it did not need talks with the International Monetary Fund on a stalled loan.

Egypt sought $4.8 billion in IMF credit last year, but months of talks on the loan stalled with the government unable to agree on cuts in unaffordable subsidies for food and fuel.

ACRIMONIOUS ENGAGEMENTS

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters gathered early on Wednesday outside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque in north-eastern Cairo, to maintain a protest vigil that has lasted nearly three weeks.

Mursi is being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. Late on Tuesday, the public prosecutor ordered the start of official investigations into an old case accusing him and other Islamist leaders of planning a prison break during the 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

In the North Sinai province bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip, Islamist militants have called on Muslims to rise up against Egypt's military after Mursi's ouster.

MILITARY TIGHTENS GRIP

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who deposed Mursi, was appointed Beblawi's first deputy, a move seen as consolidating the military's already dominant position in politics.

White House spokesman Jay Carney sidestepped questions about an appointment that is likely to further anger the Brotherhood.

The United States has avoided calling Mursi's overthrow a coup, because that would require it to halt aid, it nevertheless defended his legitimacy, a position that has attracted outrage from both sides in Egypt.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrives in Cairo on Wednesday in a fresh round of diplomacy to pressure rival parties to reconcile.