Tahrir square - AP - 25112011
A soldier constructing a barbed wire barricade, near Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday. Photo by AP
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The European Union condemned "excessive violence" in Egypt's handling of protesters seeking an end to military rule and urged Cairo to move quickly towards a civilian government.

Demonstrators in Cairo, where 41 people have been killed in violence before a parliamentary election due to begin on Monday, accuse the military leadership of seeking to hold onto power from behind the scenes.

"We urge a swift handover to civilian government and underline the need for democratic transition to be transparent, fair and accountable," EU foreign policy spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told a regular news briefing. "The elections must respect the timetable that was announced."

She said the European Union expected an independent investigation into the events in Cairo. She reiterated that the EU deplored the loss of life and that "law and order must be ensured in a manner that is respectful of human rights".

Egypt will hold a parliamentary election on Monday. A vote to elect a new president is scheduled for June 2012.

The U.S. said it deeply regrets the loss of life, and urges the Egyptian authorities to "implement an independent investigation into the circumstances of those deaths." In a statement released by the press secretary, the White House said that "the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible."

Meanwhile on Friday, tens of thousands of Egyptians flocked to Cairo's Tahrir Square to take part in the largest day of protests against the ruling military.

Activists sought to bring a million people into the streets of Cairo on what they dubbed "the Friday of the last chance".

Thousands flooded into Tahrir Square for prayers, where Sheikh Mazhar Shahin told worshippers the protest would go on until Egypt had a new salvation government.

Protesters said they expected the crowd to continue to grow in the afternoon. Friday, the weekly Muslim prayer day, has traditionally been the biggest day of demonstrations in the "Arab Spring" protests sweeping the Middle East this year.

"We are all for the revolution and stand steadfast for the demands of the revolution. There is no conflict between us and the army," the cleric said in an address over loudspeakers.

Until a truce calmed violence on Thursday, streets around Tahrir had become battle zones with stone-throwing protesters fought police firing tear gas, pellets and rubber bullets.

A steady stream of men, women and children surged into Tahrir before Friday prayers. Some, like Atef Sayed, 45, with his wife and two daughters, were protesting for the first time.

"We're here to back the idea that the military council hands responsibility to civilians and focuses on military affairs. Nine months have gone by with many things that have happened in a way opposite to what the revolutionaries wanted," he said.