Egypt's military faced pressure on Saturday to speed up its transfer of power to civilians, as top public figures demanded a faster transition and street protests against army rule disrupted the heart of Cairo for a third day.

A civilian council set up to advise the generals recommended they bring forward preparations for presidential elections after a week in which the deaths of 74 people in a soccer stadium disaster heaped more criticism on the generals.

The deaths in Port Said triggered anti-government protests in which a further 12 people have been killed, making it one of Egypt's bloodiest weeks since an uprising swept Hosni Mubarak from power a year ago and left the military in charge.

In view of the seriousness of the events, the carnage that happened, we cannot be silent, we cannot wait, said Mona Makram Ebeid, a member of the advisory council that made its recommendation at a meeting on Saturday.

It's a revolutionary plea, she told Reuters.

The advisory council will consider halting its meetings if the military council does not respond, Sherif Zahran, another member of the body, told Reuters.

Formal nominations for the presidency should be accepted starting February 23, according to the recommendation, nearly two months sooner than the April 15 date previously announced.

That could lead to an election as soon as April or May. The existing timetable drawn up by the generals states they will hand power to a president by the end of June. Officials had indicated the election would happen just before then.

While not binding, the recommendation raised pressure on the army council, headed by Mubarak's long-time defence minister. It has presented itself as the guardian of the January 25 revolution but has been criticised by reformists as a disguised prolongation of Mubarak's rule.

Facing protests in November, the military council accelerated a previous transition timetable by six months but has not said whether it could do so again.

A senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, which has mainly been supportive of the army's transition plans, also proposed a vote before June. The procedures can start in March and end in May instead of June, Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the group's Freedom and Justice Party, told Reuters.

The biggest party in the newly-elected parliament, the Brotherhood has said it will not field a candidate for the presidency. Candidates for the post Mubarak held for 30 years include Amr Moussa, a former Arab League secretary general, and Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, a former member of the Brotherhood.

NEW CONSTITUTION

The newly-elected parliament must pick a 100-member body to draft the new constitution.

But far from encouraging the military to cede power sooner, this week's violence could convince it to stay in power until mid-year in an attempt to restore order, said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, professor of political science at Cairo University.

It will try to stick to the timetable, he said.

In a statement on Friday, the council said Egypt was going through the most important and dangerous period in its history and called for Egyptians to confront attempts at escalation from foreign and domestic parties.

Protests sparked by the Port Said deaths continued. The death toll from unrest in Cairo climbed to seven, the state news agency reported. Another five people have been killed in protests in Suez, east of Cairo.

There has been intense speculation about the cause of the soccer stadium disaster. Some believe remnants of the Mubarak regime triggered violence that caused a stampede. The interior minister has blamed provocations by rival fans.

The protesters laid siege to the Interior Ministry, hurling pieces of broken pavement at police lines and drawing salvoes of tear gas. Ambulances and motorbikes ferried the wounded away from the scene, some of them knocked unconscious by the gas.

While hardcore activists sought to confront the police, others tried to defuse tensions by positioning themselves between the police and the stone-throwers. Some prayed on the ground in front of the police lines to keep protesters back.

Hala Imam, 50, a teacher, said she had come to protest against the military-led government after hearing of the deaths of demonstrators. Their brothers died in Port Said, she said. There is no other way people can demand their rights.

(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Patrick Werr and Asmaa Waguih; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)