Tag Archives: Amr Moussa

Egypt’s democratic up hill battle

Top contenders fight to stay in Egypt election

Yasmine Saleh and Dina Zayed | Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) – Three top contenders for Egypt’s presidency were scrambling to stay in the election race on Sunday after the authorities disqualified them on technical grounds, prompting one to say that a “major crisis” threatened the landmark vote.

The election is seen as the last step to democracy after more than a year of unstable army rule since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by a street revolt. The generals are due to hand power to the new president by July 1 but the latest drama saw new accusations they were trying to prolong their influence.

Mubarak’s former spy chief Omar Suleiman drew an outcry from opponents of the old regime when he entered the race last week, only to be told late on Saturday that he had failed to secure enough signatures in one province to run.

Two leading Islamist candidates were also disqualified, one because he has a criminal record – dating from what was widely seen as a political trial under Mubarak – and the other because his mother had taken U.S. citizenship, state media said.

All three have 48 hours to appeal to the state election committeeagainst their exclusion. If their elimination is confirmed, it would redraw the electoral map just weeks before the vote gets under way in May.

“We will not give up our right to enter the presidential race,” said Murad Muhammed Ali, campaign manager for the Muslim Brotherhood‘s Khairat al-Shater, one of the three.

“There is an attempt by the old Mubarak regime to hijack the last stage of this transitional period and reproduce the old system of governance.”

The disqualifications add to the drama of a transition marked by spasms of violence and bitter political rivalries between Islamists, secular-minded reformists and remnants of the Mubarak order.

Shater, who became an immediate frontrunner after joining the election race in late March, was disqualified due to past criminal convictions. Brotherhood members were often jailed for their political activities under Mubarak, who excluded the movement from formal politics.

Anticipating Shater’s disqualification, the Brotherhood, which now dominates parliament following free elections held in the wake of Mubarak’s removal, had nominated Mohamed Mursi, head of its political party, as a reserve candidate.

VIOLATION

A lawyer for Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the most hardline of the various Islamists running for the post, said there would be a “a major crisis” now that his client was barred from the race.

On Friday, his supporters besieged the headquarters of the election commission, forcing it to evacuate the premises and suspend its work. Abu Ismail said the accusation that his mother held U.S. citizenship was fabricated by his political opponents.

“The presidential committee has violated all the rules of law,” Abu Ismail said in remarks published on his Facebook page. “If the official decision is to violate the constitution, they should be able to deal with the consequences.”

Military police and state security were guarding the headquarters of the election committee in Cairo on Sunday, state media reported.

Farouk Sultan, head of the presidential election commission, told Reuters a total of 10 of the 23 candidates had been disqualified.

Frontrunners still in the race include Amr Moussa, a former Arab League Secretary General and Egyptian foreign minister, and Abdul Moneim Abol Fotouh, who was expelled from the Brotherhood last year when he mounted his own presidential campaign.

In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, before his exclusion was announced, Suleiman said the domination of politics by the Brotherhood would hold the country back. But he said if he became president, the party could serve in his government and would be a vital part of Egyptian political life.

Suleiman, 74, said he was running for office in response to public demands for a counterweight to Islamist influence.

“This is why they sought me, as a balance between Islamists and civilian forces,” said Suleiman.

He describes himself as a devout Muslim but said that Egyptians fear their country is being turned into a theocracy.

The Brotherhood, in addition to dominating parliament, chairs an assembly that was formed to write a new constitution before a court suspended its activities last week. Liberal groups had walked out of the assembly, saying it failed to reflect Egypt’s diversity.

“Many people felt that the state is going to the Muslim Brotherhood – in parliament, in government and now the presidency,” Suleiman said, while conceding that the Brotherhood was “a very important segment of Egyptian society.”

 http://news.yahoo.com/top-contenders-fight-stay-egypt-election-162709675.html

Western strike hits Gaddafi compound

By Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy | Reuters

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Western forces launched a second wave of air strikes on Libya overnight and officials in Tripoli said a missile intended to kill Muammar Gaddafi had destroyed a building in his fortified compound.

“It was a barbaric bombing,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said came from the missile. “This contradicts American and Western (statements) … that it is not their target to attack this place.”

There was no comment on the strike from attacking forces.

The first air strikes on Saturday halted the advance of Gaddafi’s forces on the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi and had targeted Libya’s air defences in order to let Western warplanes patrol the skies of this oil-producing north African desert state.

The second wave of Western air strikes also hit Gaddafi’s troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of east Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help to take the fight to the enemy.

“If we don’t get more help from the West, Gaddafi’s forces will eat us alive,” rebel fighter Nouh Musmari told Reuters.

The U.N.-mandated intervention to protect civilians caught up in a one-month-old revolt against Gaddafi drew criticism from Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who questioned the need for a heavy bombardment, which he said had killed many civilians.

Moussa said on Monday however that the League respected the U.N. resolution while stressing a need to protect civilians.

The United States, carrying out the air strikes in a coalition with Britain, France, Italy and Canada among others, said the campaign was working and dismissed a ceasefire announcement by the Libyan military on Sunday evening.

STRIKES “FOR A LITTLE WHILE”

Henri Guaino, one of French President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s closest aides, said the strikes were not aimed at ousting the autocrat who has ruled Libya for 41 years but told RMC radio that they were likely to last “a little while”.

Britain’s Defence Ministry said one of its submarines had again fired Tomahawk cruise missiles as part of a second wave of attacks to enforce the U.N. resolution but that one air force mission was called off because of civilians in the target area.

“As the RAF GR4 Tornados approached the target, further information came to light … As a result the decision was taken not to launch weapons,” a ministry spokesman said, adding this underlined the British commitment to protecting civilians.

The Libyan government urged people in towns, cities and tribes to join a march from Tripoli to Benghazi “so we could exchange condolences, … announce forgiveness … and then we could sit down as one family …”

The intervention in Libya is the biggest against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Withdrawal of Arab support would make it much harder to pursue what some defence analysts say could in any case be a difficult, open-ended campaign with an uncertain outcome.

Asked about Moussa’s concerns about the conduct of the campaign, Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary at the U.S. Department for Defense, told the BBC:

“I think that may be the case that people don’t understand the military dimensions of what was required to establish the no-fly zone but I can tell you that we continue to have … statements of support from a number of Arab countries.”

Italy said it had warplanes in the air, after U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told reporters there had been no new Libyan air activity or radar emissions, but a significant decrease in Libyan air surveillance, since strikes began Saturday.

BENGHAZI NOT FREE FROM THREAT

Benghazi was not yet free from threat, said Gortney, but Gaddafi forces in the area were in distress and “suffering from isolation and confusion” after the air assaults.

Late on Sunday night, Libyan officials took Western reporters to Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, a sprawling complex that houses his private quarters as well as military barracks, anti-aircraft batteries and other installations, to see what they said was the site of a missile attack two hours earlier.

A short walk from a brightly lit tent where Gaddafi receives his guests, the three-storey building stood in ruins, and a circular hole was visible on its gutted facade. The United States says it does not have Gaddafi on its target list.

A Libyan military spokesman announced a new ceasefire on Sunday, saying that “the Libyan armed forces … have issued a command to all military units to safeguard an immediate ceasefire from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) this evening”.

Both before and after he spoke, heavy anti-aircraft gunfire boomed above central Tripoli.

Outside Benghazi, smouldering, shattered tanks and troop carriers from what had been Gaddafi’s advancing forces littered the main road. The charred bodies of at least 14 government soldiers lay scattered in the desert.

But with Gaddafi having vowed to fight to the death, there were fears his troops might try to force their way into cities, seeking shelter from air attacks among the civilian population.

In central Benghazi, sporadic explosions and heavy exchanges of gunfire could be heard in the streets late on Sunday evening. A Reuters witness said the firing lasted about 40 minutes.

In Misrata, the last rebel-held city in western Libya, a rebel spokesman said pro-Gaddafi forces were bringing in civilians from nearby towns to use as human shields and that those forces killed seven people there on Sunday.

Residents said water supplies were cut off and Libyan troops had encircled the town.

A Libyan government health official said 64 people were killed by Western bombardment on Saturday and Sunday, but it was impossible to verify the report independently.

ARAB SUPPORT CRUCIAL

Arab support for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for Western action to stop Gaddafi killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his 41-year rule.

The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the no-fly zone was now in place.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States would not have a “pre-eminent role” in maintaining it, and expected to turn over “primary responsibility” within days, perhaps to Britain or France.

U.S. officials, eager to avoid similarities to the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, have been playing down Washington’s role and emphasising that overthrowing or killing Gaddafi is not the goal of the attacks on Libya.

Mullen told CBS television the endgame of the campaign was “very uncertain” and acknowledged it could end in a stalemate.

Gates told reporters: “I think this is basically going to have to be resolved by the Libyans themselves.”

In Brussels, NATO envoys failed to agree on any alliance involvement in enforcing the no-fly zone.

NATO members Turkey and Germany have spoken out against the zone, and diplomats said France had argued against involvement by an alliance whose reputation in the Arab world had been tainted by its involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

French planes fired the first shots of the intervention on Saturday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles near Benghazi.

France sent an aircraft carrier towards Libya and its planes were over the country again on Sunday, defence officials said. Britain said its planes had targeted Libya’s air defences, mainly around the capital Tripoli.

Other countries, including Qatar, also dispatched aircraft to participate in the operation, U.S. officials said.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/western-powers-strike-libya-second-night-20110320-192228-749.html

 

 


Libyan rebels push west as Gaddafi receives crimes warning

By Mohammed Abbas | Reuters

AL-UQAYLA, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan rebels pushed west on Thursday, extending their grip on a key coast road as Muammar Gaddafi received a warning he would be held to account at The Hague for suspected crimes by his security forces.

Venezuela said the Libyan leader had agreed to its proposal for an international commission to negotiate an end to the turmoil in the world’s 12th largest oil exporting nation.

But Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam said there was no need for any foreign mediation in the crisis, a leader of the uprising rejected talks with the veteran leader, and the Arab League said cautiously the plan was “under consideration.”

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France and Britain would support the idea of setting up a no-fly zone over Libya if Gaddafi’s forces continued to attack civilians.

President Barack Obama said the United States and the international community must be ready to act rapidly to stop violence against civilians or a humanitarian crisis in Libya.

The uprising, the bloodiest yet against a long-serving ruler in the Middle East or North Africa, has torn through the OPEC-member country and knocked out nearly 50 percent of its 1.6 million barrels per day output, the bedrock of its economy.

In eastern Libya, witnesses said a warplane bombed Brega the oil terminal town 800 km (500 miles) east of Tripoli, for the second day, part of a struggle for control of a strategically vital coast road and oil industry facilities.

Warplanes also launched two raids against the nearby rebel-held town of Ajbadiya, witnesses said.

“CIVILIAN AREAS NOT BOMBED”

But Juma Amer, Secretary for African Affairs at the Libyan Foreign Ministry, told journalists: “Media reports that civilian areas were bombed are false. Police had been and are urged to use maximum self restraint.”

Saif said Brega was bombed to scare off militia fighters and to gain control of oil installations.

“First of all the bombs (were) just to frighten them to go away,” he told Britain’s Sky News.

On the ground, rebels leading the unprecedented popular revolt pushed their front line west of Brega.

They said they had driven back troops loyal to Gaddafi to Ras Lanuf, site of another major oil terminal and 600 km (375 miles) east of Tripoli.

They also said they had captured a group of mercenaries.

In an angry scene at al-Uqayla, east of Ras Lanuf, a rebel shouted at a captured young African and alleged mercenary: “You were carrying guns, yes or no? You were with Gaddafi’s brigades yes or no?”

The silent youth was shoved onto his knees into the dirt. A man held a pistol close to the boy’s face before a reporter protested and told the man the rebels were not judges.

In The Hague, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi and members of his inner circle, could be investigated for alleged crimes committed since the uprising broke out in mid-February.

“We have identified some individuals in the de facto or former authority who have authority over the security forces who allegedly committed the crimes,” Moreno-Ocampo said.

“They are Muammar Gaddafi, his inner circle including some of his sons, who had this de facto authority. There are also some people with formal authority who should pay attention to crimes committed by their people.”

Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told BBC radio the news from The Hague was “close to a joke.”

“No fact-finding mission has been sent to Libya. No diplomats, no ministers, no NGOs or organisations of any type were sent to Libya to check the facts … No one can be sent to prison based on media reports,” he said.

Ibrahim Mohammad Ali, a spokesman for the public security department, said Libya had told the United Nations it would allow visits by independent human rights observers.

Libya is not a signatory of the ICC treaty, “but we are willing to deal with the ICC and take action against anyone who has acted outside the law,” he told a Tripoli news conference.

A spokesman for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Gaddafi ally, said the Libyan government had accepted a Venezuelan plan to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict in Libya.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the plan was under consideration and he was waiting for details from Caracas.

SKEPTICISM OVER CHAVEZ PLAN

Oil prices fell briefly on news of the plan, but traders said the fall was due to profit-taking and they were skeptical about any Venezuelan mediation. Brent crude fell more than $3 but by 2000 GMT had recovered to $114.82.

Chavez’s plan would involve a commission from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East trying to reach a negotiated outcome between the Libyan leader and rebel forces.

An aide to Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Libyan Council, told Reuters the rebels were open to talks only on Gaddafi’s resignation or exile to avoid more bloodshed.

“There is nothing else to negotiate,” he said.

He also called for foreign air strikes to set up a “no-fly zone” to help the rebels topple Gaddafi.

Save The Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres said they were struggling to get medicine and care to Libya’s needy, with gunmen blocking roads and civilians too scared to seek help.

The government has tried to persuade people in Tripoli that life continues as normal. But there were queues at banks, and residents said food prices had gone up and the street value of the Libyan dinar had fallen dramatically against the dollar.

The official news agency said the Libyan parliament had cut car fuel prices by 25 percent to 0.15 dinars ($0.12) a liter.

A fish market near Tripoli’s Green Square was mostly empty. “The situation is affecting us,” said Ismail, a fisherman. “All the Egyptian workers who run the boats have left.”

Just outside rebel-held Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, officials took foreign journalists to a local refinery to show it was controlled by the state. Officials said it was running normally.

But in the center of Zawiyah, rebels were fully in control and said they had enough forces to repel any government attack.

In the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, men of all ages gathered next to the courthouse engaged in fierce debates, enjoying their new-found freedom of speech.

“We must go to Tripoli and get rid of Gaddafi,” shouted one, to murmurs of approval from those around him.

“But we have only our shirts to protect us from the cannon,” said Ahmed el Sherif, 60, standing on the edge of the group.

The upheaval is causing a humanitarian crisis, especially on the Tunisian border where tens of thousands of foreign workers have fled to safety. But an organized international airlift started to relieve the human flood from Libya as word spread to refugees that planes were taking them home.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/gaddafi-strikes-town-rebels-call-foreign-help-20110302-191256-365.html

 


Hosni Mubarak’s last remnant

Egyptian PM Ahmed Shafiq quits

By Mona Salem | AFP News

Egypt‘s military rulers have accepted the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, seen by protesters as a symbol of ousted president Hosni Mubarak‘s regime, the army said on Thursday.

He will be replaced by Essam Sharaf, a former transport minister who took part in the mass rallies in Cairo‘s Tahrir Square which led to strongman Mubarak’s resignation on February 11 after three decades in power.

Shafiq was appointed by Mubarak in the dying days of his rule, in a failed bid to quell the protests. The military council has been running Egypt since Mubarak stood down.

“The Supreme Council of Military Forces announces that it has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq,” the statement said, without elaborating on the reasons for the move.

Since the fall of Mubarak, protesters have continued to call for a replacement of the current government, which includes several ministers from the toppled regime.

The council has previously ordered the government to run the country’s affairs for six months “or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections” and is also examining constitutional reforms.

Shafiq had been expected to stay in office at least until the elections.

His successor, Sharaf, was transport minister from 2002 to 2005. He was sacked over differences with then-premier Ahmad Nazif. Nazif was himself sacked four days after the start of the anti-Mubarak protests.

Sharaf is popular with the youths who launched the revolt against Mubarak, having taken part in the huge demonstrations in Tahrir Square in central Cairo.

Key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the Vienna-based UN International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009 and returned to Egypt join the protests, welcomed Shafiq’s resignation.

On Twitter, he said: “We are on the right track, I express my sincere appreciation to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces who have accepted the demand of the people.”

The nationwide protests that erupted on January 25 left at least 384 dead, more than 6,000 injured and scores detained.

Mubarak is currently receiving medical treatment for cancer in Saudi Arabia, a state-owned newspaper reported on Wednesday, despite the fact that the government imposed a travel ban on him and his family at the weekend.

The paper reported that Mubarak left for the Saudi city of Tabuk days after he resigned.

Egypt’s military council met a group including ElBaradei and Arab League chief Amr Mussa on Tuesday to discuss upcoming reforms, the state news agency MENA said.

The talks focused on constitutional reform, especially on the conditions for presidential candidates and the reduction of the number of terms to two of four years instead of an unlimited number of six-year terms, it said.

Mussa said last month he would be a candidate for Egyptian president.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/egypt-pm-ahmed-shafiq-resigns-20110303-023555-809.html


“Revolution Of The Young”

Egyptians pray for Mubarak to go now

By Dina Zayed and Shaimaa Fayed | Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Egyptians prayed in Cairo’s Liberation Square on Friday for an immediate end to President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule, hoping a million more would join them in what they called the “Day of Departure”.

“Leave! Leave! Leave!” they chanted after bowing in prayer and listening to a cleric declare “We want the head of the regime removed”. He praised the “revolution of the young”.

The United States, long the ally and sponsor of the 82-year-old former general and his politically influential army, was also working behind the scenes to have him hand over power.

Mubarak says he is willing to retire but, having spent three decades portraying himself as a bulwark against radical Islam in the most populous Arab state, he has warned of chaos if he goes now.

Doubtless fuelling Western — and Israeli — concerns about the rise of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood in any free Egyptian election, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed what he called an “Islamic liberation movement” across the Arab world, and urged Egypt’s army to turn on Israel.

In Cairo, where protesters have come from a mix of secular and religious inspiration, many joined in repeating the Muslim rallying call on Friday of “Allahu akbar!”, or God is greatest.

Reuters TV live Tahrir Square, click http://link.reuters.com/kuf87r

Mubarak interview with ABC, click http://link.reuters.com/red87r

Protest timeline http://link.reuters.com/zyc77r

For graphics, click http://r.reuters.com/nym77r

Insider TV, click http://link.reuters.com/caw77r

In Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, the focus of protests and of violent clashes with Mubarak loyalists in the previous two days, there was a festive atmosphere, with soldiers keeping order and the veteran defence minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, paying a visit and talking to his soldiers.

“Today is the last day, today is the last day!” protesters shouted as Arabic pop songs blared from a bank of speakers and military helicopters clattered overhead. Ambulances stood by.

One banner, in English for the benefit of the international television channels beaming out live, read: “Game over.”

ARMY OUT IN FORCE

Troops, out in greater numbers than in the previous week, strung barbed wire across streets and erected checkpoints, slowing people’s ability to get to the square. Once weekly prayers end at mosques across the country, protest leaders were hoping they could declare they had put a million on the streets.

The long-banned Brotherhood has sought to allay Western and Israeli concerns about its potential to take power in a free vote. A day after Mubarak’s new vice president broke ground by saying the Brotherhood was welcome to join a national dialogue, it said it would not seek the presidency.

Iran’s anti-Western, Islamic revolution of 1979 against the repressive, U.S.-funded shah has been cited by some in Israel and the West as a possible precedent for Egypt.

Khamenei, whose non-Arab, Shi’ite clergy represent a different branch of Islam from the mainly Sunni Arabs, praised those in Tunisia and now Egypt who had wrought dramatic change in the past month on autocratic regimes typical of the Arab world.

“The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Khamenei told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran.

Calling himself a “brother in religion” to the Arab people, he called on the Egyptian army to back the protesters and “focus its eyes on the Zionist enemy”. Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel has been a key component of the Jewish state’s security strategy.

GENERALS’ ROLE

The demonstrators, from across Egypt’s diverse 80 million population, hope to match the unprecedented turnout on the streets of the nation’s cities that they mobilised on Tuesday.

On that evening, Mubarak announced he would step down, but only in September, when a presidential election is due.

Though many Egyptians felt that was good enough, and hoped for a return to normality after the disruption which began on Jan. 25, many want Mubarak to leave immediately. The United States and its Western allies, while refraining from saying he must quit now, have urged him to begin the transition of power and move towards elections.

The armed forces, who have a crucial role to play, appear to be weighing their options, content to let demonstrators have their say in a way never before seen in Egypt. But they have not moved directly against Mubarak, and have allowed plain clothes loyalists to range the streets and attack protesters this week.

A senior U.S. official, who declined to be named, said on Thursday Washington was discussing with Egyptians different scenarios, including one in which Mubarak resigned immediately.

“That’s one scenario,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There are a number of scenarios, but (it is) wrong to suggest we have discussed only one with the Egyptians.”

Mubarak, however, said he believed his country still needed him: “If I resign today, there will be chaos,” Mubarak, who has promised to step down in September, told U.S. television channel ABC. Commenting on the calls to resign, he said: “I don’t care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country.”

U.S. INTERVENTION

The New York Times cited U.S. officials and Arab diplomats as saying Washington was discussing a plan for Mubarak to hand over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.

It also quoted a senior Egyptian saying the constitution did not allow this. “That’s my technical answer,” he added. “My political answer is they should mind their own business.”

Suleiman also hinted at irritation with U.S. interference in a television interview on Thursday: “There are some abnormal ways by which foreign countries have intervened through press declarations and statements. This was very strange, given the friendly relations between us and them,” he said.

Many of the protesters reject Suleiman as an alternative.

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League and former Egyptian foreign minister, said he believed Mubarak would hold on until September’s election. Then he added cautiously: “But there are extraordinary things happening, there’s chaos and perhaps he will take another decision.”

Moussa, spoken of by some as a possible successor, told France’s Europe 1 radio that he would consider standing.

The U.N. estimates 300 people have died in the unrest which was inspired in part by protests in Tunisia which forced Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month and which have since spread to other parts of the Middle East.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/egyptians-pray-mubarak-now-20110204-035048-128.html

 


Mubarak’s exit….???

10s of thousands flood Cairo square demanding Egypt’s Mubarak go after fending off attackers

By Hamza Hendawi, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

CAIRO – Tens of thousands packed central Cairo Friday, waving flags and singing the national anthem, emboldened in their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak after they repelled pro-regime attackers in two days of bloody street fights. The U.S. was pressing Egypt for an immediate start to democratic transition, including a proposal for Mubarak to step down immediately.
Thousands including families with children flowed over bridges across the Nile into Tahrir Square, a sign that they were not intimidated after fending off everything thrown at them by pro-Mubarak attackers — storms of hurled concrete, metal rebar and firebombs, fighters on horses and camels and automatic gunfire barrages.

In the wake of the violence, more detailed scenarios were beginning to emerge for a transition to democratic rule after Mubarak’s nearly 30-year authoritarian reign. The Obama administration said it was discussing several possibilities with Cairo — including one for Mubarak to leave office now and hand over power to a military-backed transition.

Protesters in the square held up signs reading “Now!”, massing around 100,000 in the largest gathering since the quarter-million who rallied Tuesday. They labelled Friday’s rally the “day of leaving,” the day they hope Mubarak will go.

Thousands prostrated themselves in the noon prayers, then immediately after uttering the prayer’s concluding “God’s peace and blessings be upon you,” they began chanting their message to Mubarak: “Leave! Leave! Leave!” A man sitting in a wheelchair was lifted — wheelchair and all — over the heads of the crowd and he pumped his arms in the air.

Those joining in passed through a series of beefed-up checkpoints by the military and the protesters themselves guarding the square. In the afternoon, a group of Mubarak supporters gathered in a square several blocks away and tried to move on Tahrir, banging with sticks on metal fences to raise an intimidating clamour. But protesters throwing rocks pushed them back.

The Arabic news network Al-Jazeera said a “gang of thugs” stormed its offices in continuation of attacks on journalists by regime supporters that erupted Thursday. It said the attackers burned the office and damaged equipement. The editor of the Muslim Brotherhood‘s website, Abdel-Galil el-Sharnoubi, told the AP that policemen stormed its office Friday morning and arrested 10 to 15 of its journalists. Also clashes with sticks and fists between pro- and anti-government demonstrators erupted in two towns in southernEgypt.

Various proposals for a post-Mubarak transition floated by the Americans, the regime and the protesters share some common ground, but with one elephant-sized difference: The protesters say nothing can be done before Mubarak leaves.

The 82-year-old president insists he will serve out the remaining seven months of his term to ensure a stable process. “You don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now,” Mubarak said he told President Barack Obama. He warned in an interview with ABC News that chaos would ensue.

But the Obama administration was in talks with top Egyptian officials about the possibility of Mubarak immediately resigning and handing over a military-backed transitional government headed by Vice-President Omar Suleiman.

Such a government would prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year, according to U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the continuing sensitive talks. The officials stressed that the United States isn’t seeking to impose a solution on Egypt but said the administration had made a judgment that Mubarak has to go soon if there is to be a peaceful resolution.

Suleiman has offered negotiations with all political forces, including the protest leaders and regime’s top foe the Muslim Brotherhood, over constitutional changes needed to ensure a free vote ahead of September presidential elections to replace Mubarak, who has promised not to run again.

Among them: provisions to ensure independent supervision of elections, a loosening of now suffocating restrictions on who can run for president and a term limit for the president.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the protest movement, lay out his scenario on Friday: a transitional government headed by a presidential council of two or three figures, including a military representative.

ElBaradei said he respects Suleiman as someone to negotiate with over the transition, but did not address whether he should have any presidential role.

The protesters in Tahrir have not seemed to have a unanimous view on Suleiman, a military man who was intelligence chief and Mubarak’s top aide until being elevated to vice-president last week. Some are willing to see him head any transitional government, others view him as too much of a regime figure and demand he go too.

ElBaradei repeated the protesters’ condition that Mubarak must leave immediately before there can be negotiations with the government over the nation’s future.

“He should hear the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity,” ElBaradei told a press conference. “The quicker he leaves in dignity the better it is for everybody.”

But he underlined that the protest movement is not seeking “retribution” or a complete purge. “Not everyone who worked with the regime should be eliminated,” he said. “There will be no severance with the history and past of Egypt.”

There were other potential difference with Suleiman’s scenario. ElBaradei said the constitutional changes must include greater freedom to form political parties, which now effectively need the approval of Mubarak’s ruling party. Protesters also demand the lifting of the emergency law in place for the entirety of Mubarak’s rule, giving security forces near unlimited powers.

Suleiman has mentioned neither issue, though he said the regime is willing to discuss far-reaching changes.

Another issue is timeframe. Suleiman spoke of completing constitutional changes by July to hold presidential elections in September. ElBaradei said that was not enough time to uproot a system that has ruled for decades through a monopoly on politics and widespread election fraud to ensure a proper vote.

“People are not stupid not to understand that this is not really a genuine desire to go for reform,” he said of the July/September schedule.

Instead, he said, the presidential council should rule for a year under a temporary constitution, during which time a permanent document would be drawn up and only afterwards elections held.

One self-professed potential candidate — Arab League chief Amr Moussa — appeared in the square Friday, his convoy greeted by chants of “we want you as president, we want you as president.” Moussa, previously a former foreign minister under Mubarak, has an elder statesman appeal for some Egyptians, boosted by the tough rhetoric he takes on Israel.

Asked earlier by France’s Europe 1 radio if he would consider a role in the transitional government or eventually running for president, Moussa replied, “Why say no?”

Another visitor to the square Friday: Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi, who mingled with protesters and held friendly but heated discussions, telling them most of their demands have been met and they should go home. he was the highest level government figure to visit the square in more than 10 days of demonstrations.

At Tahrir, soldiers checked IDs to ensure those entering were not police in civilian clothes or ruling party members and performed body searches at the square’s entrances, a sign that Egypt’s most powerful institution was sanctioning the demonstration.

The atmosphere was peaceful after the 48 hours of violence between pro- and anti-Mubarak crowds battling with rains of rock and concrete torn from the street and shields fashioned out of sheet metal from a construction site. At least eight people were killed in the fighting and more than 800 injured. Gangs backing Mubarak attacked journalists and human rights activists across Cairo Thursday, while others were detained by soldiers.

The pro-Mubarak crowds that have attacked demonstrators and foreign journalists did not have a visible presence in Tahrir on Friday. On the other side of Cairo, dozens of regime supporters carrying machetes and sticks set up an impromptu checkpoint on the ring-road highway encircling the city of 18 million, stopping cars to inspect them and ask for IDs. The roadblock appeared to be looking for protesters heading to Tahrir. One of the armed men wore a sign around his neck reading, “We are sorry, Mr. President.”

In Tahrir, protesters formed their own cordon inside the military’s to perform a secondary check of IDs and bags. Many of those arriving brought fresh bread, water, fruit and other supplies, and the atmosphere was relaxed. Long lines formed at tables of people handing out tea and bread. Many waved the Egyptian flag or chatted amicably with the soldiers. Women in full face veils and enveloping robes stood close to women in blue jeans and tight tops.

Around the square were makeshift clinics, set up in the entranceways of stores, including a KFC. At one, a man received an injection in his arm. Above another was the sign of an interlocking crescent and cross.

Around 5,000 of the protesters prostrated themselves in prayer at noon. Though men and women prayed separately as is traditional, the women knelt in a block parallel to the men instead of behind them out of sight or in a separate area entirely as takes place in most Egyptian mosques. After uttering the concluding “God’s peace and blessings be upon you” of the prayer, they began the chant: “Leave! Leave! Leave!”

A number of celebrities of Egyptian cinema and TV joined the march, including Sherihan, a beloved screen beauty from the 1980s and early 1990s who largely disappeared from the public eye because of health issues. “This is really a popular revolution, it’s civilized and honourable,” she told Al-Jazeera TV.

“We’re calling on this to be the largest protest ever,” said Mahmoud Salem, a youth activist and blogger. “We are hoping it will be the last one.” He said that during Thursday’s turmoil, his car was attacked by regime supporters as he and four friends tried to deliver supplies to the square. He said the rioters relentlessly smashed the car windows and ripping off the side mirrors until he and his colleagues fled from the car.

“It was like a zombie movie,” he said.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/activists-pour-tahrir-square-push-drive-mubarak-washington-20110204-021619-770.html