Muslim Brotherhood holds talks, Cairo crisis continues (Roundup)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - Protesters hunkered in Cairo’s Tahrir square seeking President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster as Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organised opposition group, Sunday opened talks with the beleaguered regime.

“We are starting a round of talks to know how serious they are about responding to the demands of the people,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gamal Nassar told DPA after talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman.

The Brotherhood, which had previously said it would not take part in talks as long as Mubarak remained in office, insisted it was still standing by its first condition — the president should go.

The talks with the Muslim Brotherhood began a day after the top executive committee of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, including President Mubarak’s son Gamal Mubarak, resigned amid unprecedented mass protests.

At Tahrir square, the hub of the protests against Mubarak who has ruled Egypt since taking power in 1981, thousands were still gathered but in far fewer numbers compared to recent days.

Mubarak has said he won’t quit now, warning of chaos if he was ousted.

Thousands assembled Sunday at the square for the 13th day. Similar demonstrations have engulfed other parts of Egypt including Alexandria.

Ahmed Abdel Moneim, a student who has been sleeping in the square for days, told Al Jazeera: “We have to be steady to topple the government.”

Protest organisers have called for a “Day of the Martyred” to be observed in honour of those who have died in the protests since Jan 25. That number varies from around 150 to as high as 300.

But a semblance of normalcy returned to Cairo.

A steady stream of employees flowed into Cairo’s financial district. Customers queued to access their accounts Sunday as banks opened after a week of closure.

“People are anxious to get paid and pull money out. It has been almost two weeks and life is at a standstill,” complained Cairo resident Metwali Sha’ban.

Shops and business establishments too opened Sunday. The traffic police also returned to the streets — as did Cairo’s notorious traffic jams.

Amid efforts to end the deadlock in Cairo, the US continued to press Egypt to go for an “orderly, peaceful transition”.

US Vice President Joe Biden Saturday asked his Egyptian counterpart Suleiman “about progress in beginning credible, inclusive negotiations for Egypt’s transition to a democratic government to address the aspirations of the Egyptian people”, a White House statement said.

Biden “stressed the need for a concrete reform agenda, a clear timeline, and immediate steps that demonstrate to the public and the opposition that the Egyptian government is committed to reform”.

At least 5,000 people have been injured since the unrest in Egypt began Jan 25, said Health Minister Ahmed Farid. The UN estimates that more than 300 have died, mainly last week, in clashes with police.

The unrest has caused massive economic losses to the country.

The main tourist attraction — the pyramids in Giza to the west of Cairo — is heavily fortified with military and police, and entrance to the site is practically impossible.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said earlier that the situation in Egyptian cities was returning to normal. “The security situation is improving every day,” he said.

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