Cairo protesters hold out, Obama nudges Mubarak (Roundup)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - Egyptians determined to oust President Hosni Mubarak held their ground in Cairo Saturday, as US President Barack Obama reiterated that the transition of power “must begin now”.

The mounting protests against Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, were held throughout the night and into early Saturday, the 12th day of a crisis in the frontline Arab country bordering Israel.

Mubarak is under intense pressure to quit. He said he was willing to step down at the end of his term in September, not now.

The protesters — their numbers in Tahrir Square, the hub of the anti-Mubarak campaign, estimated at hundreds of thousands to a million — want his immediate ouster.

Al Jazeera reported Saturday that demonstrators defied a curfew.

The protesters have made it clear that they would not budge till Mubarak steps down.

“It’s either death, or freedom,” a protester said.

‘Go Mubarak!’ the crowd chanted as the army maintained a vigil. The protests had turned violent Wednesday and Thursday, leaving 13 people dead and over 1,000 injured.

Amid the political storm, it emerged Saturday that there had been an assassination attempt on Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former spy chief, shortly after he assumed the new post Jan 29.

The assassination attempt left two of his bodyguards dead, Fox News said.

Also Saturday, a massive explosion rocked a pipeline supplying gas to Israel, near the town of El Arish, close to the Egyptian-Israeli border.

The state television blamed it on “terrorists who took advantage of the unstable security situation in the country”.

The media has come under attack in Cairo.

Egyptian journalist Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, who worked for al-Ta’awun newspaper, died Friday of a gunshot wound suffered while covering the Jan 28 unrest in Cairo, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

His death was the first of a journalist covering the Egyptian uprising.

As demonstrators across Egypt pressed for Mubarak’s ouster, the US stepped in.

Short of asking the embattled Mubarak to quit, President Obama served notice on the key ally that the transition of power “must begin now” and lead to free and fair elections.

Talks between he Egyptian government and its political opponents were in the initial stages, Obama noted Friday, but warned that the mere “pretense of reform” would not be enough.

The negotiations must include a broad representation of the Egyptian opposition, he told reporters.

Asked if Mubarak needs to step down now, as opposed to waiting for a successor to be chosen in the September election, Obama said Mubarak needs to listen to what’s “being voiced by the Egyptian people”.

Obama, who has had two conversations with Mubarak since the crisis began in January, said the question Mubarak needs to ask himself is: “How do we make that transition effective, and lasting, and legitimate?”.

A defiant Mubarak Saturday met ministers holding economic portfolios and the head of the central bank at the presidential palace in Cairo.

DPA reported that newly appointed Finance Minister Samir Radwan and central bank Governor Farouq al-Oqda joined the ministers of oil, trade and social security at the meeting.

Officials indicated that banks could see a limited reopening Sunday though there would be limits on withdrawals. The stock exchange could also reopen Monday.

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