A protester injured during skirmishes at Tahrir Square.
WASHINGTON: The United States, a longtime ally of Egypt that has intensified its calls for democratic transition, reminded the military rulers in Cairo Tuesday that Washington expects them to fulfil their promises
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the excess of force used by Egyptian security forces against anti-military protesters and urged the authorities to ensure the right of the people to freedom of expression.
"We believe that the Egyptian government has a particular responsibility to restrain security forces," Nuland said, urging the authorities to exercise maximum restraint.
The remarks signaled a change in tone over just 24 hours.
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney had said the administration of President Barack Obama was deeply concerned about the violence in Cairo's Tahrir Square, without targeting either side for particular criticism.
Tens of thousands of protesters filled the Square on Tuesday to demand an end to military rule, following a government crackdown on days of protests that has left at least 28 people dead.
Nuland said the United States was reassured by an announcement earlier Tuesday by Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, that parliamentary elections would be held on schedule on November 28.
In a televised speech, Tantawi accepted the resignation of the cabinet, said the military was prepared to hold a referendum on an immediate transfer of power and that presidential elections would be held by July 2012.
"The fact that General Tantawi went out and reaffirmed them today was significant," she told reporters.
But Nuland made it clear that Washington would be watching the generals, who have been in power since a popular uprising led to the ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in February, to ensure they follow through.
"We certainly will hold the ruling authorities to the commitments that were made today," she said.
"We have made clear from the beginning that we stand with the Egyptian people in their aspirations for a full democratic transition," Nuland added.
"So we have reassurances now from military authorities again that that is their intention. And that gives us a basis to, going forward, hold them to what they committed to the Egyptian people."
Nuland also said Washington was "looking forward to the naming of a new Egyptian government," following Tantawi's acceptance of the current cabinet's resignation, one week before the highly-anticipated legislative elections.
The United States had considered Egypt to be one of its closest allies in the Arab world during Mubarak's three decades in power.
Its peace deal with Israel and the strong military ties between Cairo and Washington explained the relatively discreet US criticisms of the Mubarak regime.
But after only a few days of wavering when the uprising broke out, Obama called for a democratic transition in Egypt. At the time, the administration praised the military's restraint towards anti-government protesters.
Since then, Washington has intensified its calls for Egypt's military to end both the state of emergency -- in place since the start of the Mubarak era -- and military trials of civilians, which critics say result in harsh sentences.
The United States, keen to preserve the key regional alliance, has hinted it would not object if fair parliamentary elections in Egypt produced a victory for the powerful Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Nathan Brown, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the US influence in Egypt was in fact rather limited.
"Many Egyptians feel the United States has leverage with the military -- many throughout the region wonder how strongly we will stand against Islamists," Brown wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
"Our influence is likely greatly exaggerated in both regards, not only in our own minds but also in those of activists in the region. But we still need to acknowledge and react to our perceived influence."