Egypt government offers talk with opposition

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CAIRO - As protesters gathered for a million people march Tuesday, intensifying their agitation against Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the Egyptian president asked the newly appointed vice president to hold talks with the opposition.

Vice President Omar Suleiman said Monday that President Mubarak had appointed him to hold immediate dialogue with the opposition, Xinhua reported.

According to Suleiman, the president highlighted the importance of executing court’s orders to correct the last year’s parliamentary elections results.

Suleiman said there would even be a review of some disputed seats in parliament, from last November’s election. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) swept the election, amid accusations of widespread fraud.

Suleiman, a former intelligence chief, was appointed as Egypt’s vice president Friday in response to the massive protests that broke out in various cities last week.

However, protesters refused to accept Mubarak’s new cabinet and decided to scale up their uprising.

The demonstrators, led by the reformist leader Mohammed ElBaradei, have planed to take out a march of over a million people Tuesday to oust Mubarak, Al Jazeera reported.

At least 150 people have died so far in violence linked to the unrest.

According to DPA, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square until the wee hours of Tuesday said they would not relent until President Mubarak stepped down and the country was put on the path towards serious economic and democratic reforms.

Officials and media reports said the government was planning to shut down the country’s mobile networks ahead of Tuesday’s “march of a million”. It would be the second time since Friday that Egypt’s government would have taken such a move.

Internet has been down across the country since late Thursday. Internet monitor Renesys said another Egyptian internet service provider, Noor Group, appeared to have been taken down.

In response, Google said it would offer demonstrators a means of sending tweets to Twitter by calling a telephone number, where their words would be automatically converted into text.

Rail traffic was also to be disrupted to prevent demonstrators from elsewhere in Egypt from reaching the march, Al Jazeera reported.

In Tahrir Square, the vice president’s statement was seen as a concession to the opposition, after they earlier derided the new cabinet as one mostly filled with loyalists and former ministers.

“We will spend as many nights here as it takes to get the snake out,” chanted the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, referring to Mubarak.

The European Union issued a statement, supporting “free and fair elections” in Egypt, following a similar message the day before from Cairo’s main ally, the US - upping the international pressure on the embattled Mubarak, DPA reported.

Egypt’s military also said it saw the protesters’ demand as “legitimate”. The armed forces urged citizens not to loot, but assured them soldiers would not open fire.

Many more thousands of protesters were gathered in other parts of Cairo, in the coastal city of Alexandria and the port town Suez.

Unrest was also widespread in other remote regions across the vast and mostly poor country of 80 million people, almost half below the age of 35. The protests are the largest in a generation.

Egypt’s economy was suffering with its bonds being downgraded. The country’s stock market and banks were also to remain closed.

The port in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, was also closed, according to traders. But the Suez Canal, vital for international trade, remained functional.

Residents in certain areas of Cairo, mostly in poor neighbourhoods, reported rapidly rising food and petrol prices and many shops were closed. Many cash machines had been looted or had not been restocked.

The turmoil has caused foreign governments to fly many of their nationals out of Egypt and arrange special flights for those who still wanted to leave.

The impact of the unrest was being felt globally, as stock markets were nervous and currency investors fled to the dollar and Swiss franc, considered safe havens.

ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), addressed the demonstrators and promised that change would come to their country.

“What we have begun today cannot be turned back,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner told the crowd in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square through a megaphone on what he termed an “historic day”.

“We are beginning a new era in Egypt,” thundered ElBaradei.

Filed under: Politics

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