Defiant but joyous protests up pressure on Mubarak

01.02.2011 - El Cairo - Radio Netherlands

There were no incidents of violence reported anywhere in the country after the army promised not to fire on protesters, saying they had legitimate grievances.

Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who Mubarak appointed on Monday as his first vice president in three decades in office, said he had instructions to open a dialogue with the opposition but the offer was firmly rejected.

Former UN nuclear wadchdog chief and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who some consider as a potential figurehead for the protest movement, said Friday had been set as *”departure day”* for Mubarak.

The angry eight-day revolt — in which an estimated 300 people have died and more than 3,000 been injured — has sent jitters throughout the Middle East.

King Abdullah II of Jordan sacked his government after weeks of demands for change, Yemen’s president summoned parliament ahead of a *”day of rage”* called for Thursday, and a Facebook group of Syrian youth called for a peaceful revolution to start on Friday.

A committee of Egyptian opposition groups, which includes ElBaradei and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, pledged that there would be no negotiations with the regime until Mubarak *”leaves.”*

Men, women and children swarmed Cairo’s streets from early morning, joining hundreds who had spent the night in Tahrir Square in tents or sleeping on the grass.

Protester Madiha Shalaby, 38, held aloft a sign in the square calling on the *”US to support Egyptians.”*

Basma Mahmud, 30, said: *”We are waiting for them to say he has left, that he is on a plane. This is our dream.”*

Chants of *”Revolution! Revolution until victory!”* rang out amid the festive atmosphere in the square.

Soldiers in tanks encircled the square but they held no fear for the happy crowds.

An army statement to *”the great people of Egypt”* on Monday said *”your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people,”* stress that *”they have not used and will not use force against the Egyptian people.”*

The army’s position drew praise from Washington as Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke by telephone with his Egyptian counterpart, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on Tuesday.

*”Thus far the Egyptian military has acted with professionalism and restraint,”* Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.

It was a position echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron. *”In his calls, the prime minister welcomed the restraint the Egyptian army had shown today and emphasized the importance of allowing the protests to take place peacefully,”* his office said.

*”The prime minister called for an orderly transition to a broad-based government, including opposition figures.”*

The US and British governments both kept in touch with opposition leaders as well as the government, as Washington ordered the evacuation of all non-essential staff from Egypt.

US ambassador Margaret Scobey spoke by telephone with ElBaradei, a US official.

*”The British ambassador in Cairo, Dominic Asquith, has had a range contacts on the ground today with both government and opposition figures, including Mohammed ElBaradei,”* a Foreign Office statement said.

The New York Times reported that Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Egypt, had been sent to meet Mubarak directly, but that officials would not say whether Wisner would urge him to leave office.

Writing in the same paper, senior US Senator John Kerry said it was time for Mubarak to say clearly he will step down.

*”It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge ‘fair’ elections, as he did on Saturday,”* said Kerry, who is chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

*”The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son (Gamal) he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year.”*

ElBaradei told Al-Arabiya television that Mubarak should leave by Friday.

*”What I have heard (from protesters) is that they want this to end, if not today (Tuesday), then by Friday maximum,”* he said.

But he called for Mubarak to be spared prosecution. *”I’m for a safe exit for President Mubarak,”* the Nobel peace laureate told US-funded Al-Hurra television.

*”We’re going to turn the page; we can pardon the past,”* he said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that, according to unconfirmed reports, a total of 300 people had died in the unrest so far, with casualties *”mounting on a daily basis.”*

Foreigners continued to throng Cairo airport for flights out as several governments announced they were sending charter aircraft to assist the exodus.

Germany widened its travel warning to cover all of Egypt, including Red Sea resorts like Sharm el-Sheikh which have so far largely been spared the protests that have affected larger cities.

With 14.7 million visitors in 2010 and revenues estimated at about 13 billion dollars, tourism is a key source of income for Egypt, and its new Finance Minister Samir Radwan acknowledged the gravity of the situation.

*”I wouldn’t say there is a chaos (but) there is a crisis, there is no doubt about it,”* Radwan told the BBC.

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the IMF was ready to help Egypt, where rising food prices could have *”potentially devastating consequences.”*

Standard & Poor’s lowered its debt ratings for Egypt a day after a similar move by Moody’s, saying ongoing instability *”will hamper Egypt’s economic growth and adversely affect its public finances.”*

Categories: International, Middle East, Politics

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