Saturday, February 05, 2011
Protest Leaders, Egypt's Prime Minister Meet : NPR
Leaders of Egypt's unprecedented wave of anti-government protests have held talks with the prime minister over ways to ease President Hosni Mubarak out of office. Under one proposal, the 82-year-old leader would hand his powers to his vice president, though not his title immediately, to give him a graceful exit.
Mubarak has staunchly refused to leave, insisting on serving out the rest of his term until September, and his aides have repeatedly said in recent days that the country's leader of nearly 30 years must not be dumped in a humiliating way.
The protesters, in turn, say they will not stop their giant rallies or enter substantive negotiations on democratic reform until Mubarak quits. Thousands continued to gather Saturday in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, a day after some 100,000 protesters massed there demanding Mubarak leave power immediately.
A self-declared group of Egypt's elite — called the "group of wise men" — has circulated ideas to try to break that deadlock. Among them is a proposal that Mubarak "deputize" his Vice President Omar Suleiman with his powers and, for the time being at least, step down in everything but name.
The "wise men," who are separate from the protesters on the ground, have met twice in recent days with Suleiman and the prime minister, said Amr el-Shobaki, a member of the group. Their proposals also call for the dissolving of the parliament monopolized by the ruling party and the end of emergency laws that give security forces near-unlimited powers.
Late Friday, a delegation from the protesters themselves meet with Shafiq to discuss ways out of the impasse, said Abdel-Rahman Youssef, a youth activist who participated in the meeting.
Youssef told The Associated Press on Saturday that the meeting was not a start of negotiations. "It was a message to see how to resolve the crisis. The message is that they must recognize the legitimacy of the revolution and that president must leave one way or the other, either real or political departure," he said.
The protesters are looking into the proposal floated by the "wise men," said Youssef, who is part of the youth movement connected to Nobel Peace laureate and prominent reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei.
"It could be a way out of the crisis," Youssef said. "But the problem is in the president...he is not getting it that he has become a burden on everybody, psychologically, civicly and militarily."
Israa Abdel-Fattah, a member of the April 6 group, another of the youth movements driving the demonstrations, said there is support for the wise men's proposal among protesters.
Youssef underlined that the 12-day-old protests will continue in Tahrir Square until Mubarak goes in an acceptable way.
"There is no force that can get the youth out of the square. Every means was used. Flexibility, violence, live ammunition, and even thugs, and the protesters are still steadfast," he said, referring to an assault by regime supporters on Wednesday that sparked 48 hours of heavy street fighting until protesters succeeded in driving off the attackers.
On Saturday, soldiersutted vehicles that protesters used as barricades during the fighting, but protesters argued with them for the vehicles to remain. Rumors also circulated in the square that the military — which has surrounded Tahrir for days — was preparing to withdraw, so some protesters lay on the ground in front of tanks to prevent them. The protesters see the military as a degree of protection from police or regime supporters they fear will attack again, though the government promised Friday not to try to eject the protesters by force.
The emergence of various talks and players marked a new stage in the evolution in the crisis as all sides try to shape the post-Mubarak transition.
Suleiman and Shafiq — both military men, like Mubarak, and regime stalwarts who were appointed to the posts last week — have led the government's handling of the crisis. They have sought to draw the protesters and opposition groups into negotiations to quickly enact constitutional reforms so elections for a new president replacing Mubarak can be held in September.
Protesters, however, are wary of a trap. They fear that without the pressure of protesters in the streets demanding democracy, the regime will carry out only superficial reforms while keeping its grip on power. So they are reluctant to end the demonstrations without the concrete victory of Mubarak's ouster and assurances on what happens next.
el-Shobaki, of "the wise men," said Suleiman did not respond to their proposal that Mubarak deputize him.
"The stumbling point ," el-Shobaki said.
The "wise men" are comprised of about a dozen prominent public figures and jurists, including former Cabinet minister and lawyer Ahmed Kamal Aboul-Magd, businessman Naguib Sawiris and political scientist academics like el-Shobaki. "We don't represent the youth on the ground. We keep in touch with them," said el-Shobaki.
The protest organizers themselves are a mix. The majority are young secular leftists and liberals, who launched the wave of protests though an Internet campaign, but the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood also has built a prominent role. They have succeeded in drawing a startlingly broad cross-section of the public, including the urban poor, lower middle class and young upper class.
Protest organizers have formed a committee that will carry out any future negotiations with the government over reforms. The committee includes ElBaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood and representatives of the youth factions.
Friday, February 04, 2011
Prayer, peace mark Egypt's 'Day of Departure' - Feb. 4: lt felt more like a victory party than a protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday as several hundred thousand protesters gathered after prayers to denounce President Mubarak and celebrate their unprecedented 11 days of continuous demonstrations. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Unemployment Drops to 9 Percent In January : NPR
The unemployment rate fell sharply last month to 9 percent, the lowest since April 2009, based on a government survey that found that more than a half-million people found work.
A separate survey of company payrolls showed a scant increase of 36,000 net jobs as snowstorms likely hampered hiring. That survey doesn't count the self-employed.
John Challenger, with the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the drop in the unemployment rate was "a real sign perhaps that more people are self-employed and more are working that aren't" reflected in the business payroll survey.
Snow Hurts Payrolls But Factories Up Sharply
Harsh snowstorms last month cut into construction employment, which fell by 32,000, the most since May. Transportation and warehousing was also likely affected and fell by 38,000 — the most in a year.
"The thumbprints of the weather were all over this report," said Neil Dutta, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Hiring was suppressed last month and will likely rebound in February, he said.
Private analysts had expected employers to add 146,000 jobs and the unemployment rate to rise to 9.5 percent.
In one bright spot, manufacturing added 49,000 jobs, the most since August 1998. And retailers added 28,000 jobs, the largest number in a year.
The unemployment rate has fallen by eight-tenths of a percentage point in the past two months. That's the steepest two-month drop in nearly 53 years.
But part of that drop has occurred as many of those out of work gave up on their job searches. When unemployed people stop looking for jobs, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.
Obama Adviser: Jobless Rate Still 'Unacceptably High'
White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee said in a statement that the economic data has been encouraging in recent months, "but there is still considerable work to do."
"The 0.8 percentage point decline in the unemployment rate over the past two months is a welcome development; however, the rate remains unacceptably high," he said.
The number of people unemployed fell by more than 600,000 in January to 13.9 million. That's still about double the total that were out of work before the recession began in December 2007.
Revisions Cut 2010 Job Growth
The January jobs report also includes the government's annual revisions to the employment data, which showed that fewer jobs were created in 2010 than previously thought. All told, about 950,000 net new jobs were added last year, down from a previous estimate of 1.1 million. The economy lost about 8 million jobs in 2008 and 2009.
In the past three months, the economy generated an average of 83,000 net jobs per month. That's not enough to keep up with population growth.
The weakness in hiring was widespread. Restaurants and hotels cut 2,200 jobs. Governments shed 14,000 positions. And temporary help agencies eliminated 11,000 jobs. Financial services lost 10,000 positions.
Education and health care services, one of the few steady job generators through the downturn, added 13,000 jobs, the fewest in almost two years. Financial services lost 10,000 jobs.
- US employment figures disappoint (guardian.co.uk)
- Unemployment Rate Falls To 9% In January, Economy Adds Only 36K Jobs (huffingtonpost.com)
Egypt's 'final push' protests begin - Middle East - Al Jazeera English
Chants urging Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to leave office are reverberating across Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered at the square, the focal point of protests in Egypt, for what they have termed the "Day of Departure".
As the country entered its eleventh day of unrest, mass demonstrations commenced after Friday prayers.
Thousands also gathered in the city of Alexandria, holding up placards and chanting "He must go!" an Al Jazeera correspondent there reported.
Protesters there have said they will march to the city's main train station and stage a sit-in until Mubarak resigns.
Three thousand people also joined demonstrations in Giza.
In Cairo, about 200 Mubarak loyalists had gathered on the 6th of October Bridge, near Tahrir Square, with another 200 below the bridge.
They were chanting pro-regime slogans, and holding up posters of Mubarak.
Our correspondent reported that there was a standoff between about 300 Mubarak loyalists and pro-democracy protesters in the Talaat Harb square, which is located on a street leading to the main protest centre.
People were throwing rocks at one another, and the Mubarak loyalists were eventually driven from the square.
Our correspondents at the scene reported that there were up to five layers of checkpoints at some entrances, with makeshift barricades being put up by pro-democracy protesters.
"The feel here is that today is the final day for Mubarak, it's time for him to go," Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist told Al Jazeera from the square.
"This whole process has been about who is more determined and who is not willing to give up. And everyday [the protesters] get more and more determined," Ibrahim said.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's defence minister, also visited the square earlier on Friday. He talked with the protesters and other military commanders.
Amr Moussa, Egypt's former foreign minister and current secretary-general of the Arab League, also visited the square.
Earlier, Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's new prime minister, said the interior minister should not obstruct Friday's peaceful marches.
On Thursday, Mubarak said he wanted to leave office, but feared there will be chaos if he did.
Speaking to America's ABC television he said, "I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go."
But he added: "If I resign today, there will be chaos."
Mubarak's government has struggled to regain control of a nation angry about poverty, recession and political repression, inviting the Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's most organised opposition movement - to talks and apologising for Wednesday's bloodshed in Cairo.
Protesters chanted 'He must go!'
In a bid to calm the situation, Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, said on Thursday that Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups had been invited to meet the new government as part of a national dialogue.
An offer to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood would have been unthinkable before protests erupted on January 25, indicating the gains made by the pro-democracy movement since then.
But sensing victory, they have refused talks until Mubarak goes.
Opposition actors including Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog head, and the Muslim Brotherhood said again that Mubarak, who wants to stay on until elections scheduled for September, must go before they would negotiate with the government.
"We demand that this regime is overthrown, and we demand the formation of a national unity government for all the factions," the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement broadcast by Al Jazeera.
The government's overture came after Shafiq, the prime minister, apologised for Wednesday's violence and the breakdown in law and order.
Shafiq also said he did not know who was responsible for the bloodshed, blamed by protesters on undercover police.
Mohammed Al-Beltagi, a leading member of Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera on Friday that his organisation has no ambitions to run for the presidency.
The developments come as the New York Times reports, quoting US officials and Arab diplomats, that the US administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately and hand over power to a transitional government headed by Omar Suleiman, the newly appointed vice-president.
This report, though unconfirmed by the White House, comes after Mubarak's statements on Tuesday this week, where he agreed to give up power in September at the end of his current term.
Mohamed Talaat El-Sadat, brother of the late Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadaat has backed Suleiman for the top post. He told Al Jazeera on Friday that he supported the youth revolution but did not want Egypt to go to civil war.
"We don’t want chaos and call for meeting [the] demands of demonstrators who should stay at Tahrir Square," he said, adding "I expect Mubarak will voluntarily and openhandedly step down and transfer power to Omar Suleiman."
At least 13 people have died and scores were injured over the last two days when Mubarak loyalists launched a counter-revolution on pro-democracy protesters.
The army took little action while the fighting raged in Tahrir Square over the past two days.
However, there was a more visible military presence on Thursday; but this did not prevent new clashes.
The interior ministry has denied it ordered its agents or officers to attack prior pro-democracy demonstrations.
Vice president Suleiman told ABC Television that the government would not forcefully remove protesters. "We will ask them to go home, but we will not push them to go home," he said.
Ahead of Friday's mass protests, eyewitnesses told Al Jazeera that thugs, with the assistance of security vehicles, were readying to attack Tahrir Square. They said protesters were preparing to confront them.
Protesters also reported finding petrol bombs on security personnel dressed in civilian clothes.
An Al Jazeera correspondent, who spent Thursday night in Tahrir Square, said "the numbers did not die down one bit" through the night.
He added that there was an atmosphere of defiance among all the protesters he had spoken to.
The army's role in shaping events is crucial. Only on Thursday did soldiers set up a clear buffer zone around the square to separate factions after having stood by. That did not prevent new clashes as opposing groups pelted each other with rocks.
Though less numerous than earlier in the week, there were demonstrations on Thursday in Suez and Ismailia, industrial cities where inflation and unemployment have kindled the sort of dissent that hit Tunisia and which some believe could ripple in a domino effect across other Arab police states.
U.S. says Egypt’s President Mubarak must go - Feb. 4: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports on President Obama’s call for a transition to democratic government in Egypt; meanwhile, the White House is trying to avoid putting a “made in the U.S.” label on any ouster of President Mubarak.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Egypt: Dozens Of Journalists Detained, Clash With Pro-Mubarak Forces
CAIRO -- Foreign journalists were beaten with sticks and fists by pro-government mobs on the streets Cairo on Thursday and dozens were reported detained by security forces in what the U.S. called a concerted attempt to intimidate the press.
Foreign photographers reported a string of attacks by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak near Tahrir Square, the scene of vicious battles between Mubarak supporters and protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power. The Egyptian government has accused media outlets of being sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now rather than complete his term as he has pledged.
The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini said its correspondent in Cairo was hospitalized with a stab wound to the leg after being attacked by pro-Mubarak demonstrators in central Tahrir Square. He has been released. A Greek newspaper photographer was also beaten.
"There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Washington Post Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl said on the paper's website that multiple witnesses had reported that Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel and photographer Linda Davidson were among two dozen journalists arrested by the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
"We understand that they are safe but in custody and we have made urgent protests to Egyptian authorities in Cairo and Washington," he said.
The New York Times said two reporters working for the paper were released on Thursday after being detained overnight in Cairo.
A CNN reporter tweeted: Wash. Post, NY Times, Canada's Globe & Mail reporters arrested; mobs clashed w/ CNN IBN, NPR, Time.
Fox News foreign correspondent Greg Patlok and producer Olaf Wiig were badly beaten. As their colleague John Roberts described it:
They were forced to leave their position when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at it, a large fire erupted. They were forced to flee. They ran out and ran right into the pro Mubarak crowd and were severely beaten and had to be taken to the hospital, spent the night in the hospital. The extent of their injuries was fairly grave, however, they have been released from the hospital.
ABC reporter Brian Hartman was threatened with beheading by a group of men, as he reported:
Just escaped after being carjacked at a checkpoint and driven to a compound where men surrounded the car and threatened to behead us.
The Qatar-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said in an e-mail that three of its journalists were detained by security forces and another was reported missing.
Egyptian authorities have complained the network's round-the-clock coverage was slanted toward protesters and could encourage more unrest.
Al-Jazeera also said its journalists' equipment had been stolen and destroyed during more than a week of unrest and it had faced what it called unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal across the Arab world.
The Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Arabiya pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists.
The Toronto Globe and Mail said on its website that one of its reporters, Sonia Verma, said the military had "commandeered us and our car" in Cairo.
"It is believed that Globe reporter Patrick Martin was travelling with Ms. Verma, along with a driver," the site said.
UPDATE: The two were released, the Globe and Mail said later on Thursday:
"The pair, along with their driver, were scooped up at a checkpoint by men in civilian clothes who seized their passports, Ms. Verma said. After learning they were journalists, one of the men commandeered their car and directed their driver to head to another part of the downtown. Ms. Verma and Mr. Martin were taken to an outdoor area in a military-controlled zone where more than 20 other foreigners, including journalists and tourists, were being held. Soldiers searched their bags and forced Ms. Verma and Mr. Martin to hand over their cellphones. When the Canadian reporters asked why they were being detained, they were told it was because the military was planning a large operation, Ms. Verma said. Soldiers also said they were keeping their passports because they were looking into their background."
The injured Greek journalist, Petros Papaconstantinou, said on Kathimerini's website that: "I was spotted by Mubarak supporters. They ... beat me with batons on the head and stabbed me lightly in the leg. Some soldiers intervened, but Mubarak's supporters took everything I had on me in front of the soldiers."
A Greek freelance photographer was punched in the face by a group of men who stopped him on the street near Tahrir Square and smashed some of his equipment.
The leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain said in a joint statement that the "attacks against journalists are completely unacceptable."
Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said that "AP journalists in Egypt have faced the same harassment and intimidation as other news organizations."
One Associated Press location was disrupted by men wielding sticks, and satellite equipment was taken.
"The situation was quickly defused," Colford said. "No one was injured."
Turkey's state broadcaster TRT, said its Egypt correspondent, Metin Turan, was beaten by a group of around 15 pro-Mubarak demonstrators with batons and lost a tooth in the attack. His camera, money and cell phone were stolen.
Three other Turkish journalists were also stopped and roughed up near Tahrir square, TRT said.
Polish state television TVP said that two of its crews were detained in Cairo. One was released after one of its camera's was smashed, it said.
Government spokesman Magdy Rady said Wednesday that the assertion of state involvement in street clashes and attacks on reporters was a "fiction," and that the government welcomed objective coverage.
"It would help our purpose to have it as transparent as possible. We need your help," Rady said in an interview with The Associated Press. However, he said some media were not impartial and were "taking sides against Egypt."
CNN's Anderson Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera in central Cairo on Wednesday. Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels, and feared she was going to get trampled.
"This is incredibly fast-moving," Cooper said. "I've been in mobs before and I've been in riots, but I've never had it turn so quickly."
In Wednesday's fighting, security forces did not intervene as thousands of people hurled stones and firebombs at each other for hours in and around the capital's Tahrir Square.
There were reported assaults that day on journalists for CBS, the BBC, Danish TV2 News, Swiss television and Belgium's Le Soir newspaper, among other organizations. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.
Reporter Jean-Francois Lepine of Canada's CBC all-French RDI network said that he and a cameraman were surrounded by a mob that began hitting them, until they were rescued by the Egyptian army.
"Without them, we probably would have been beaten to death," he said.
Image via WikipediaVodafone: Egypt forced us to send text messages
By RAPHAEL G. SATTER
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 9:26 AM
LONDON -- Egyptian authorities forced Vodafone to broadcast government-scripted text messages during the protests that have rocked the country, the U.K.-based mobile company said Thursday.
Micro-blogging site Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone's Egyptian customers showing text messages sent over the course of the protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old regime.
A text message received Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt appealed to the country's "honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honor." The sender is identified only as "Vodafone."
Vodafone Group PLC said in a statement that the texts had been scripted by Egyptian authorities. The company said authorities had invoked emergency rules to draft the messages, whose content it said it had no ability to change.
"Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable," the statement said. "We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator."
Vodafone said the texts had been sent "since the start of the protests," which kicked off more than a week ago. Vodafone did not immediately return an e-mail asking why the company waited nearly 10 days to complain publicly. Its statement was released only after repeated inquiries by the AP.
Vodafone has already come under fire for its role in the Internet blackout that cut Egypt off from the online world for several days. The company said the order to pull the plug on its Egyptian customers could not be ignored as it was legal under local law.
Vodafone claimed that its competitors - including Mobinil and the United Arab Emirates' Etisalat - had also sent similar messages to their customers.
Etisalat, known formally as Emirates Telecommunications Corp., declined to comment when asked about the text messaging. The Abu Dhabi-based company is majority owned by the UAE government.
- Egypt 'hijacked Vodafone network' (bbc.co.uk)
- Vodafone Egypt forced to send pro-Mubarak texts (cbc.ca)
- Vodafone: Egypt Forced Us To Send Pro-Government Messages (huffingtonpost.com)
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
WikiLeaks Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize : NPR
A Norwegian lawmaker has nominated WikiLeaks for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, saying Wednesday that its disclosures of classified documents promote world peace by holding governments accountable for their actions.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee keeps candidates secret for 50 years, but those with nomination rights sometimes make their picks known.
Snorre Valen, a 26-year-old legislator from Norway's Socialist Left Party, told The Associated Press he handed in his nomination in person on Tuesday, the last day to put forth candidates.
"I think it is important to raise a debate about freedom of expression and that truth is always the first casualty in war,'' Valen said. "WikiLeaks wants to make governments accountable for their actions and that contributes to peace.''
Valen also announced his choice on his blog, where he wrote that WikiLeaks had advanced the struggle for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech, just like last year's winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Valen cited disclosures of nepotism and corruption in Tunisia's presidential family, saying WikiLeaks "made a small contribution to bringing down'' that regime.
The prize committee typically receives more than 200 nominations, so being nominated doesn't say anything about a candidate's chances of actually winning. And there's no way of knowing for sure that people who announce candidates actually submitted a legitimate nomination to the award committee.
Kristian Harpsviken, a leading Nobel-watcher and director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, said he didn't consider WikiLeaks as a strong candidate for the 10 million kronor ($1.6 million) award.
"The reason I think it's unlikely is that there has been so much criticism of WikiLeaks, not least how they have handled identification issues of people in the documents,'' he said. "I don't think it quite does the trick.''
Harpsviken keeps a list of "possible and confirmed nominations,'' based on public announcements and his own sources. His list this year includes WikiLeaks as well as Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking material to the website.
Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva, Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar, and several rights groups including U.S.-based Wings of Hope and Cuban opposition movement Damas de Blanco are also on the list.
His own top guess is Russian rights group Memorial, followed by activists Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Ory Okolloh of Kenya.
The committee will announce the winner in October.
Image by robertxcadena via FlickrGunfire breaks out as Mubarak allies and foes clash - World news - Mideast/N. Africa - msnbc.com
CAIRO — The battle between allies and foes of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak entered a second day Thursday when supporters of the beleagured leader opened fire on anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square, killing at least one and wounding at least seven, a witness said.
The gunfire came hours after Mubarak supporters charged into Cairo's central square on horses and camels brandishing whips while others rained firebombs from rooftops. It appeared to be an orchestrated assault against protesters trying to topple Egypt's leader of 30 years. At least three people died and more than 600 were injured.
The protesters accused Mubarak's regime of unleashing a force of paid thugs and plainclothes police to crush their unprecedented nine-day-old movement, a day after the 82-year-old president refused to step down. They showed off police ID badges they said were wrested from their attackers. Some government workers said their employers ordered them into the streets.
A doctor quoted on Al Arabiya television said that Mubarak supporters opened fire early Thursday in Tahrir square, killing at least one person. NBC News' Richard Engel, reporting from a nearby balcony on msnbc's "The Rachel Maddow Show" at about 4:30 a.m. local time, described frequent gunfire around the square.
Engel said that at one point, Mubarak foes seemed to have driven supporters away from the square. As he reported, an army tank fired up its engine and laid down a smoke screen between the sides.
One protester was caught in a firebomb and rolled in an attempt to put out the flames. It was unclear whose side the person was on.
Mustafa el-Fiqqi, a top official from the ruling National Democratic Party, told The Associated Press that businessmen connected to the ruling party were responsible for the clashes earlier in the day. But Egypt's Interior Ministry earlier denied accusations by anti-government protesters that plainclothes police were involved.
The notion that the state may have coordinated violence against protesters, who had kept a peaceful vigil in Tahrir Square for five days, prompted a sharp rebuke from the Obama administration.
"If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
The clashes marked a dangerous new phase in Egypt's upheaval: the first significant violence between government supporters and opponents. The crisis took a sharp turn for the worse almost immediately after Mubarak rejected the calls for him to give up power or leave the country, stubbornly proclaiming he would die on Egyptian soil.
"After our revolution, they want to send people here to ruin it for us," said Ahmed Abdullah, a 47-year-old lawyer in the square. "Why do they want us to be at each other's throats, with the whole world watching us?"
Dr. Mona Mina, a physician at an emergency clinic set up at the scene, told Reuters more than 1,500 people were injured.
Dr. Hatem Aly, with the Gamaet Ein al-Shams hospital in Cairo, said the majority of the wounded were anti-Mubarak protesters. He said the injuries ranged from minor cuts and bruises to serious, life-threatening wounds. Some suffered burns from exploding Molotov cocktails; others were stabbed by knives or swords used by pro-Mubarak protesters, he said.
Several foreign journalists were among the wounded, according to media reports.
The scenes of mayhem were certain to add to the fear that is already running high in this capital of 18 million people after a weekend of looting and lawlessness and the escape of thousands of prisoners from jails in the chaos.
The military, which has stayed on the sidelines during a week of mostly peaceful protests, repeatedly broadcast a message on state television Wednesday night warning people to evacuate, saying that “violent groups” intended to burn down the square, Al-Jazeera English reported.
Egypt's newly appointed vice president, former intelligence chief and army officer Omar Suleiman, urged protesters on both sides to go home.
"The participants in these demonstrations had conveyed their message, both those demanding reform and those who came out in support of President Hosni Mubarak," he said, according to the MENA state news agency.
Suleiman urged "all citizens to return to their homes and abide by the curfew to boost the authorities' efforts in restoring calm and stability and limit the damage and losses the demonstrations had caused Egypt since they erupted last week."
After dark the protesters barricaded the square against groups of pro-Mubarak supporters who appeared to be trying to penetrate the makeshift cordon. There was sporadic gunfire, with blazes caused by firebombs, and the atmosphere was tense.
Fires were burning near the famed Egyptian Museum and at a residential building, and NBC's Engel said he saw "flaming bombs" being dropped from buildings.
The clashes erupted the day after Mubarak went on national television and said he would not seek another term but rejected protesters' demands he step down immediately.
Some of the worst street battles raged near the famed Egyptian Museum at the edge of the square. Pro-government rioters blanketed the rooftops of nearby buildings and hurled bricks and firebombs onto the crowd below — in the process setting a tree ablaze inside the museum grounds. Plainclothes police at the building entrances prevented anti-Mubarak protesters from storming up to stop them.
The two sides pummeled each other with chunks of concrete and bottles at each of the six entrances to the sprawling plaza, where the 10,000 anti-Mubarak protesters tried to fend off the more than 3,000 attackers who besieged them. Some on the pro-government side waved machetes, while the square's defenders filled the air with a ringing battlefield din by banging metal fences with sticks.
In one almost medieval scene, a contingent of pro-Mubarak forces on horseback and camels rushed into the anti-Mubarak crowds, trampling several and swinging whips and sticks. Protesters dragged some from their mounts, throwing them to the ground and beating their faces bloody. The horses and camels appeared to be ones used by the many promoters around Cairo who sell rides for tourists.
Dozens of men and women pried up the pieces of the pavement with bars and ferried the piles of ammunition in canvas sheets to their allies at the front. Others directed fighters to streets needing reinforcements. Entrances to a subway station under the square were turned into impromptu prisons, with seized attackers tied up and held at the bottom of the stairs.
Story: Who are the pro-Mubarak protesters?
Some protesters wept and prayed in the square where only a day before they had held a joyous, peaceful rally of a quarter-million, the largest demonstration so far.
"We saw rocks flying in all directions … it was total mayhem," an Al-Jazeera correspondent in the area of Tahrir Square told the TV station. She said there was a "complete stampede" and that she saw people being trampled.
Another Al-Jazeera correspondent in the square said the "crazed cavalry charge" had entered the square alongside pro-Mubarak protesters and ran "straight at a wall of people." A cameraman was trampled, he said. Live video showed protesters on top of the buildings bordering Tahrir Square throwing debris.
Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based Arabic-language TV news channel, reported one of its correspondents was missing after being confronted by pro-Mubarak reporters.
CNN's Anderson Cooper said he and his production crew were kicked and punched by pro-Mubarak demonstrators. Cooper said no one was seriously hurt.
The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet said two of its reporters were attacked and held for several hours by Egyptian soldiers who accused them of being spies for Israel.
The public emergence of Mubarak loyalists, whether ordinary citizens or police, thrust a new dynamic into the momentous events in this most populous Arab nation of 80 million people.
The anti-government uprising broke out Jan. 25 as public frustration with corruption, oppression and economic hardship under Mubarak boiled over.
Rep. Sen. John McCain said Mubarak should go. "Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres. Mubarak 2 step down & relinquish power. It's in the best interest of Egypt, its people & its mility," he tweeted.
In his 10-minute speech Tuesday night, Mubarak insisted that even if the protests had not broken out, he would not have sought a sixth term in September. But he did not accede to protesters' demand that he step down immediately.
Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades, said he would serve out the rest of his term working "to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power." He said he will carry out amendments to rules on presidential elections.
Egypt's stock exchange and many of its banks and businesses have been closed due to the turmoil, and thousands of foreigners have been evacuated from the county.
- Egypt gets ugly in a hurry. In Yemen, president says he'll go, too, just not yet. (maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Cairo protest thousands hold firm (bbc.co.uk)
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Jordan’s King Dismisses Cabinet After Protests - NYTimes.com
Filed at 7:58 a.m. EST
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's Royal Palace says the king has sacked his government in the wake of street protests and has asked an ex-army general to form a new Cabinet.
King Abdullah's move comes after thousands of Jordanians took to the streets — inspired by the regime ouster in Tunisia and the turmoil in Egypt — and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.
The Royal Palace says Rifai's Cabinet resigned on Tuesday.
Abdullah also nominated Marouf al-Bakhit as his prime minister-designate. No other details were immediately available.
- Jordan rally targets government (bbc.co.uk)
Image via WikipediaMubarak’s Grip on Power Is Shaken - NYTimes.com
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — The government of Egypt’s authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, shook Monday night, as the Egyptian Army declared that it would not use force against protesters demanding his ouster and, in an apparent response, Mr. Mubarak’s most trusted adviser offered to talk with the opposition.
Those statements, along with the damage to Egypt’s economy, appeared to weaken Mr. Mubarak’s grip on power just two weeks after a group of young political organizers called on Facebook for a day of protest inspired by the ouster of another Arab strongman, in Tunisia.
Hundreds of thousands have turned out into the streets over the last six days, and organizers called on millions of Egyptians to protest on Tuesday.
Within hours on Monday, the political landscape of the country shifted as decisively as it had at any moment in Mr. Mubarak’s three decades in power. The military seemed to aggressively assert itself as an arbiter between two irreconcilable forces: a popular uprising demanding Mr. Mubarak’s fall and his tenacious refusal to relinquish power.
How far Mr. Mubarak is offering to bend in negotiations remains to be seen, and given the potential ambiguities of both statements it is too soon to write off the survival of his government.
But the six-day-old uprising here entered a new stage about 9 p.m. when a uniformed military spokesman declared on state television that “the armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.” Addressing the throngs who took to the streets, he declared that the military understood “the legitimacy of your demands” and “affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.”
A roar of celebration rose up immediately from the crowd of thousands of protesters still lingering in Tahrir Square, where a television displayed the news. Opposition leaders argued that the phrase “the legitimacy of your demands” could only refer to the protests’ central request — Mr. Mubarak’s departure to make way for free elections.
About an hour later, Omar Suleiman, Mr. Mubarak’s right-hand man and newly named vice president, delivered another address, lasting just two minutes.
“I was assigned by the president today to contact all the political forces to start a dialogue about all the raised issues concerning constitutional and legislative reform,” he said, “and to find a way to clearly identify the proposed amendments and specific timings for implementing them.”
The protesters in the streets took Mr. Suleiman’s speech as essentially a capitulation to the army’s refusal to use force against them. “The army and the people want the collapse of the government,” they chanted in celebration.
Even some supporters of Mr. Mubarak acknowledged that events may have turned decisively against him once the military indicated its support for the protesters, especially given the historical independence of the Egyptian military.
“The army is not a puppet in the hands of anybody,” said Mahmoud Shokry, a former Egyptian diplomat and a friend of Mr. Suleiman. “It is not a puppet in the hands of Mubarak. It is not a puppet in the hands of Omar Suleiman. It is not a puppet in the hands of the defense secretary.”
“The army does not want to confront the youth,” Mr. Shokry said. “If they think this will make a kind of civil war, they will ask Mr. Mubarak to leave the country, I am sure.”
Mr. Mubarak’s previously unquestioned authority had already eroded deeply over the preceding three days. On Friday, hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilian protesters routed his government’s heavily armed security police in a day of street battles, burning his ruling party’s headquarters to the ground as the police fled the capital. On Saturday, Mr. Mubarak deployed the military in their place, only to find the rank-and-file soldiers fraternizing with the protesters and revolutionary slogans being scrawled on their tanks.
And on Sunday, leaders of various opposition groups met to select Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to negotiate for them in anticipation of talks with Mr. Mubarak about forming a transitional unity government — an idea Mr. Mubarak’s surrogate embraced Monday.
Mr. Mubarak’s government came under pressure from another front as well: the swift deterioration of the economy. The protests, and the specter of looting that followed the police withdrawal, have devastated tourism, the source of half of Egypt’s foreign income, and shut down transportation.
Ragui Assaad, an economist at the University of Minnesota, said the potential collapse of the economy was like a gun to Mr. Mubarak’s head. “If it’s a complete shutdown like this, and it lasts for a few weeks, that is going to be really serious,” he said.
On Monday foreign embassies scrambled to book charter flights to evacuate their citizens as thousands of people jammed the Cairo airport trying to flee the country. International companies, including those in the vital oil and natural gas industries, shuttered their operations.
As late as midday, however, Mr. Mubarak seemed to be trying to wait out the protesters. He appeared on television soberly shaking the hands of a new roster of cabinet ministers in a public demonstration that even though protesters may control the streets, he remained head of state.
He reinstated about half of the cabinet he had dismissed three days ago in a bid to soothe the unrest. Indeed, in a sign that he may be digging in for a prolonged battle, he added the position of deputy prime minister to the duties of his powerful defense minister, Mohammed Tantawi, who will serve under Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander he had appointed as prime minister.
The most notable cabinet change was in the official in charge of suppressing the protests. Mr. Mubarak replaced Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, criticized by human rights advocates for tolerating torture and other police abuses and widely reviled here. He was succeeded by Mahmoud Wagdy, a retired general who had been the head of the Cairo criminal investigations division and a former head of prisons.
The street protests were gearing up again, but with a notably different face. For the first time the Muslim Brotherhood stepped to the fore as the protest organizers called their most reliable foot soldiers as reinforcements.
Though outlawed here because of its Islamist ideology, the Brotherhood is the only group in Egypt able to call out a large and disciplined network of experienced organizers, and their presence on Monday was unmistakable.
Most of the week’s protests appeared to represent a nearly universal cross section of the public, coming together spontaneously with little leadership or direction. But as hundreds poured out of midday prayers at a mosque in the neighborhood of Mohandeseen and marched toward Tahrir Square on Monday, they were shepherded through the streets by seasoned organizers, often middle-aged men with beards or bruises on their foreheads from prayers. They arranged for rows of marchers holding hands to keep their cohorts packed together within single lanes of traffic. Others linked arms in rows as they marched.
The crowd initially included a mix of women, most of them veiled, and children. But as the marchers rolled through the streets, they shouted to the apartments above, “Come down, come down!” and “One, two, Egyptians where are you?” More men filed out of the buildings as the women and children fell away.
The crowd merged with others as it approached the square and the guides hemmed it until it was a thick mass of thousands stretching for blocks. In the square, a troop of veiled women circled, chanting for the resignation of Mr. Mubarak.
When asked about the Brotherhood’s role, the guides demurred, saying the protests represented all Egyptians. But there were mixed feelings in the crowds about the Brotherhood’s obvious role that could prefigure future divisions among the momentarily united opposition.
Several protesters said they were glad the Brotherhood could keep up the momentum and discipline when others might fall away or clash with the police.
“The people are too eager; the people are undisciplined,” one marcher said. “But the Brotherhood are very organized, very connected, and they have resources.”
But others wanted to step away. “I hate the Brotherhood,” said Mohamed Ismail, 23, an engineer. “I hate Islamism. I don’t want an Iranian regime. I want freedom and democracy.”
The government’s black-clad security police, a special paramilitary force dedicated to preserving order, began to redeploy around Cairo on Monday, and some protesters said they feared new violence.
“I brought my American passport today in case I die today,” said Marwan Mossaad, 33, a graduate architecture student with dual Egyptian-American citizenship. “I want the American people to know that they are supporting one of the most oppressive regimes in the world and Americans are also dying for it.”
But after the surprise announcements from the military and Mr. Suleiman, the protest on Tuesday, optimistically dubbed the March of Millions and set to take place around the country, began shaping up as a potentially decisive moment. Mr. Shokry, the former ambassador close to Mr. Suleiman, cautioned that anything could happen.
“What will happen if there is a flare-up, a few bullets shot into the young men, a Molotov cocktail?” he asked. “A million people in the streets. How will we keep the peace?”
Reporting was contributed by Mona El-Naggar, Kareem Fahim, Anthony Shadid, and Robert F. Worth from Cairo, and Nicholas Kulish from Alexandria.
- Egypt braces for massive protest (bbc.co.uk)
- Egypt set for mass protest as army rules out force (guardian.co.uk)
- Protesters dominate central Cairo (bbc.co.uk)
Monday, January 31, 2011
Image via WikipediaEgypt's Protests; Day Seven: Anti-Mubarak Demonstrators Stay Put : The Two-Way : NPR
Thousands of protesters who want Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down are in Cairo's Tahrir Square again today, as the demonstrations that have rocked that nation are in their seventh day. As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported for Morning Edition, the most populous Arab nation has been turned "on its head" by the crisis.
We'll keep following the news from Egypt as the day continues. To get started, here's a quick look at some of what's being reported at this hour:
— "Egyptian protesters have called for a massive demonstration on Tuesday in a bid to force out president Hosni Mubarak from power," Al Jazeera says. Organizers hope to have "more than a million people on the streets of the capital Cairo, as anti-government sentiment reaches a fever pitch."
— The Associated Press says that "the coalition of groups, dominated by youth movements but including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said it wants the march from Tahrir, or Liberation Square, to force Mubarak to step down by Friday. Spokesmen for several of the groups said their representatives were meeting Monday afternoon to develop a unified strategy for ousting Mubarak. The committee will also discuss whether Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei will be named as a spokesman for the protesters, they said. ElBaradei, a pro-democracy advocate and former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, invigorated anti-Mubarak feeling with his return to Egypt last year."
— The BBC reports that its correspondents "say all the signs continue to suggest that the only change the protesters will settle for is Mr Mubarak's removal from office. Meanwhile, Moodys Investor Services has downgraded Egypt's bond rating and changed its outlook from stable to negative, following a similar move by Fitch Ratings last week. Both cited the political crisis."
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Novarro said the protesters in Tahrir Square are determined to stay until Mubarak goes. But "they're not anointing anyone" as the next leader of Egypt, she told ME host Steve Inskeep.
- Egypt protests: Mubarak regime under siege (guardian.co.uk)
- Protesters dominate central Cairo (bbc.co.uk)
- Egypt: More Protests Expected; Stock Market Plunges; Movement 'Growing' : The Two-Way : NPR (armwoodnews.com)
Sunday, January 30, 2011
News Desk: Who Is Omar Suleiman? The New Egyptian Vice-President: The New Yorker
One of the “new” names being mentioned as a possible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects. After dissolving his cabinet yesterday, Mubarak appointed Suleiman vice-president, and according to many commentators he is poised to be a potential successor, and an alternative to Mubarak’s son and intended heir until now, Gamal Mubarak. Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington. Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage from the standpoint of those looking for a clean slate on human rights. As I described in my book “The Dark Side,” since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.
As laid out in greater detail by Stephen Grey, in his book “Ghost Plane,” beginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the U.S. and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, described Suleiman as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”
Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”
- Protesters dominate central Cairo (bbc.co.uk)
- Factbox: Omar Suleiman, new Egyptian vice-president (reuters.com)
- World pressure on Mubarak grows (bbc.co.uk)
- You: Egypt protests: Mubarak in frantic bid to cling to power (guardian.co.uk)
Image via WikipediaSouthern Sudan Votes For Secession By 99 Percent : NPR
January 30, 2011
Southern Sudan's referendum commission said Sunday that more than 99 percent of voters in the south opted to secede from the country's north in a vote held earlier this month.
The announcement drew cheers from a crowd of thousands that gathered in Juba, the dusty capital of what may become the world's newest country.
The weeklong vote, held in early January and widely praised for being peaceful and for meeting international standards, was a condition of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a north-south civil war that lasted two decades and killed 2 million people.
The head of the commission's southern bureau, Justice Chan Reec Madut, said Sunday that voter turnout in the 10 states in the south was also 99 percent. He said only some 16,000 voters in the south chose to remain united with northern Sudan, while 3.7 million chose to separate.
In northern Sudan, 58 percent of voters chose secession, said Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, chairman of the referendum commission. He said some 60 percent of eligible voters participated.
Southern Sudanese voters in eight foreign countries overwhelmingly supported secession, he said, with 99 percent support for secession among the 97 percent of voters who participated.
In the United States, he said, more than 99 percent of the 8,500 southerners who cast votes chose secession.
"These results lead to a change of situation," said Khalil after he read the results. "That change relates only to the constitutional form of relationship between north and south. North and south are drawn together in indissoluble geographic and historic bonds."
Referendum commission officials did not announce an overall percentage total for all votes cast. The commission's website said Sunday that 98.8 percent of voters chose secession, but noted that the figure may change.
If the process stays on track, Southern Sudan will become the world's newest country in July. Border demarcation, oil rights and the status of the contested region of Abyei still have to be negotiated.
Southern Sudanese president Salva Kiir also gave remarks at the results ceremony, speaking mostly in Arabic.
"We are still moving forward," Kiir said in English. "The struggle continues."
Kiir thanked Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his leadership and for "making peace possible."
Kiir said the south will declare independence on July 9, but not before.
"We are not going to put down the flag of Sudan until July 9," he said.
The event marked the release of the first official primary results from the self-determination vote. The results will not be finalized until February.
But Sunday's announcement did not stop people from celebrating.
"I'm very happy because today we have determined our destiny," said Anna Kaku, 42, who dressed up for the ceremony and joined the spontaneous dancing that followed Kiir's address. "We fought for so many years, and now we have done this peacefully."