Thursday, February 03, 2011

DTN News - EGYPT IN CRISIS: Egypt Regime Digs In As Death Toll Mounts In Tahrir Square

DTN News - EGYPT IN CRISIS: Egypt Regime Digs In As Death Toll Mounts In Tahrir Square
Source: DTN News - - This article compiled by Roger Smith from reliable sources Jack Shenker and Peter Beaumont in Cairo, Harriet Sherwood in Alexandria, and Julian Borger -, Thursday 3 February 2011 20.57 GMT
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada - February 3, 2011: The Egyptian regime dug in today, defying international pressure to begin an immediate transfer of power while launching attacks on journalists and human rights observers.

Egypt's vice-president Omar Suleiman offered political concessions, inviting the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood to a dialogue. However, the Islamist movement and other opposition parties have refused to talk until President Hosni Mubarak steps down.

Mubarak told America's ABC News tonight: "I am fed up. After 62 years in public service I have had enough. I want to go." But he added he could not step down immediately for fear that the country would sink into chaos.

He said he had told Barack Obama: "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."

The government's readiness to negotiate, following Mubarak's own promise not to run for re-election in September, also failed to stem the pressure for faster and more radical change from anti-government protesters on the streets of Egypt's cities and from other world leaders.

Ten people were reported dead and 800 injured yesterday at the focal point of the struggle, Tahrir Square, in Cairo, after the president's supporters mounted attacks on the crowd of protesters.

The army made sporadic attempts to separate the two sides , swivelling the gun turrets of their tanks in an effort to disperse the skirmishing groups and pushing pro-Mubarak groups off a bridge over Tahrir Square, but the troops did not intervene decisively to stop the violence. Clashes with stones, petrol bombs and occasional gunshots continued throughout the day.

Meanwhile, pro-government mobs tracked down and beat Egyptian and international television crews and reporters, forcing their vehicles off the roads and besieging their bureaux and hotels.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said correspondents from CNN, Associated Press, and al-Arabiya television were among those attacked. The Qatar-based al-Jazeera, which has been ordered to cease broadcasting from Egypt, said three of its reporters had been arrested and one was missing. Dozens more journalists were detained.

"The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the regional coordinator of the Campaign to Protect Journalists, reflecting fears that the crack-down presaged an all-out attack on the protesters.

The US administration also denounced what it described as "systematic targeting" of the media. The US state department spokesman, PJ Crowley, said: "There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions."

Egyptian and international human rights workers were also detained when police raided a law centre in Cairo. Staff from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were among those picked up and the organisations said their whereabouts was unknown.

The government combined the crack-down with political concession aimed at drawing the sting from the revolt. The prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, acknowledged that the attacks on anti-government protesters "seemed to have been organised", and he promised an investigation into who was behind them.

Suleiman, the intelligence chief and newly-appointed vice-president, said Mubarak's son, Gamal, would not stand for the presidency this year, as had previously been expected. He added that he had invited the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned throughout Mubarak's 30-year reign, to join a dialogue on Egypt's future. But he said the group had been "hesitant" to take part. The Muslim Brotherhood and most of the secular opposition are demanding Mubarak's resignation as a precondition for negotiations.

The vice-president repeatedly insisted any political changes would take time and could not be rushed. It would take 70 days to explore possible constitutional amendments, Suleiman said.

However, a chorus of foreign leaders maintained calls for more immediate and profound reform.

David Cameron issued a joint statement with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain saying: "Only a quick and orderly transition to a broad-based government will make it possible to overcome the challenges Egypt is now facing. That transition process must start now."

The European leaders were echoing Obama's call for change to begin at once, but like him stopped short of calling directly for Mubarak's immediate resignation.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, went further. Speaking to journalists in London, he said: "President Mubarak's announcement that he will stay until the end of his term and will not run for re-election – I'm not sure that will satisfy the demands of his people. If there is a need for change, it should happen now."

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