Cairo: Egypt's military rulers on Thursday apologised for deaths of protesters demanding civilian control and vowed to punish the culprits, amid a temporary ceasefire following fierce street battles that claimed at least 39 lives and left over 3,000 people injured in six days of unrest.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt's loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square," the military rulers said in a statement on their Facebook page.

"The Council also offers its condolences to the families of the martyrs across Egypt."
SCAF also promised a swift investigation into the violence that killed 39 people and left more than 3,000 wounded in six days and prosecution of those responsible.

The unrest, which began on Saturday, came days before the country's first parliamentary elections, scheduled to open on Monday, since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February following a popular uprising.

Protesters in several cities across Egypt have been demanding that the military rulers hand over power to civilians immediately. They have rejected a pledge to speed up transition to civilian rule and vowed to continue their protest until the military rulers step down.

The protests spread to other cities from Cairo. In Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city, clashes erupted last night along a street near the main security directorate.

"Interior Ministry forces are out of control ... they're not being professional and they're not being controlled by the military council," Rebab el-Mahdy, a politics professor at the American University in Cairo, told a channel.

Two members of the ruling military council appeared on state TV late on Wednesday night to offer "condolences to the entire Egyptian people" following deaths of the protesters.

One of them, Maj Gen Muhammad al-Assar, extended "the regret and apology of the entire armed forces on the tragedy that occurred".

For the first time they offered an apology from the entire armed forces and also appealed to Egyptians not to compare them with the former regime of Mubarak.

The crisis began when riot police violently cleared a small encampment in Tahrir Square on Saturday. Protesters say the continued fighting has hardened their resolve to remove the military from power and complete a revolution that began in January against Mubarak's rule.

Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi had announced on state media on Tuesday that the military had no interest in staying in power and that parliamentary polls would go ahead as scheduled.

(Agencies)