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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt Sees New Era After Exit of Hosni Mubarak -

Hosni Mubarak 2003Image via WikipediaEgypt Sees New Era After Exit of Hosni Mubarak -

CAIRO — As a new era dawned in Egypt on Saturday the army leadership sought to reassure Egyptians and the world that it would shepherd a transition to civilian rule and honor international commitments like its peace treaty with Israel.

Exultant and exhausted opposition leaders claimed their role in the country’s future, pressing the army to lift the country’s emergency law and release political prisoners, and said no negotiations with the military had yet begun. They vowed to return to Tahrir Square next week to celebrate a victory and honor those who died in the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

In an announcement broadcast on state television an army spokesman said that Egypt would continue to abide by all its international and regional treaties and that the current civilian leadership would manage the country’s affairs until the formation of a new government.

The army spokesman said the military was “aspiring to guarantee the peaceful transfer of power within the framework of a free democratic system that allows an elected civilian power to rule the country, in order to build a free democratic state.” But he did not discuss a timetable for any transfer of power.

A wary opposition stood its ground even as disagreements surfaced over whether to leave Tahrir Square, the center of the revolution. And the impact of Egypt’s uprising rippled across the Arab world as protesters turned out in Algeria, where the police arrested leading organizers, and in Yemen, where pro-government forces beat demonstrators with clubs. In Tunisia, which inspired Egypt’s uprising, hundreds demonstrated to cheer Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Jordan and Israel for talks as both countries deal with the fallout from Egypt’s revolution.

In Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, some members of the broad movement that toppled Mr. Mubarak vowed to continue their protests, saying that all their demands had not yet been met.

A long list included an end to the emergency law that allows detention without charges, the dissolution of the Parliament seen as illegitimate, and for some of the protesters, the prosecution of Mr. Mubarak. About 50 stood in the square on Saturday morning, as the military removed barricades on the periphery.

But the uprising’s leading organizers, speaking at a news conference in central Cairo, asked protesters to leave the square.

The group, the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, which includes members of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth and young supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, said that it had not yet talked with the military and that on Sunday it would lay out a road map for a transitional government.

The coalition said that Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, and other respected figures would work as intermediaries between the youth group and the country’s new military chiefs.

“The power of the people changed the regime,” said Gehan Shaaban, a spokeswoman. “But we shouldn’t trust the army. We should trust ourselves, the people of Egypt.”

Again, there were signs that not all the protesters were willing to give up. During the news conference a woman said: “We should all head to Tahrir and stay there, until we ourselves are sure that everything is going as planned. The government of Ahmed Shafiq has to go!” Mr. Shafiq is the prime minister. The woman’s screams brought the news conference to a close.

As the protesters and opposition groups prepared an agenda they sought clues about exactly whom they were negotiating with. On Friday, Vice President Omar Suleiman said that Mr. Mubarak had authorized the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs, marking the transition from civilian to military rule.

Mr. Suleiman, a former general who became Egypt’s foreign intelligence chief, straddled the two worlds. But Hosam Sowilam, a retired general, said Mr. Suleiman no longer played a leadership role. “Omar Suleiman finished his time,” he said. “He’s 74 years old.”

In interviews, leaders of the protest movement said they assumed that the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, who was considered a die-hard Mubarak loyalist, was now the country’s de facto leader. On Saturday morning his convoy tried to drive to Tahrir Square, according to a paratrooper stationed there. But he did not leave his car.

The military chiefs worked quickly to exert their influence, calling on citizens to cooperate with the police, after weeks of civil strife, and urging a force stained by accusations of abuse and torture to be mindful of the department’s slogan: “The police in the service of the people.”

While the commitment to international treaties by the Egyptian military reassured the United States and Israel, there was no indication whether such a pledge would survive a new government. The protesters in the square made it clear that they would reconsider all of Mr. Mubarak’s foreign alliances, and many frequently referred to the deposed president as an Israeli or American agent.

Hamdy Hassan, a former member of Parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood, said the military had “acknowledged the revolution’s legitimacy,” but added that there were still doubts about its intentions. “We want a guarantee that we do not have another tyrant.”

In Cairo, citizens measured their new reality with humor, mild arguments and celebrations. The official state press gave a measure of how much things had changed.

“The People Toppled the Government” said the headline in Al Ahram, the flagship state-owned national newspaper and former government mouthpiece, borrowing a line from the protest movement. Another article noted that Switzerland had frozen the assets of Mr. Mubarak his aides.

On state television, which for weeks depicted the protesters as a violent mob of foreigners, an anchor spoke of the “youth revolution.”

Security officials said Saturday that the information minister, Anas el-Fekky, who many of the protesters say should be fired, was placed under house arrest.

In Tahrir Square, thousands of volunteers who brought their own brooms or cleaning supplies, swept streets and scrubbed graffiti from nearby buildings. On the streets surrounding the square, the celebrations from the night before continued, spurred on by honking drivers.

But on Saturday night, the party started early, as tens of thousands of Cairo residents and visitors from all over Egypt filled the square, dancing to music and snapping pictures of their children standing on vigilant tanks.

The president’s departure, for Sharm el Sheik, seemed for some to have stripped the country’s pressing political problems of some of their urgency. Mr. ElBaradei’s brother, Ali ElBaradei, said Mohamed ElBaradei was taking the day off and had not been contacted by the military. “They will call when they call,” he said.

Amr Hamzawy, who has acted as a mediator between the protesters and the government, said that “everyone is taking a break,” though he expressed concern with the vague nature of the army’s most recent statements.

“What is the timeline we are looking at?” he said. “Is it September?” He also said it was unclear whether the army council ruling the country favored amending the Constitution or starting from scratch, which is the preferred solution for many of the protesters.

There was also no clear sign from the military about whether it intended to dissolve Parliament, Mr. Hamzawy said, adding that so far the military’s tone had been “very, very positive.”

Much of the current confusion was caused by the way Mr. Mubarak, after clinging to power and turning his security services on the protesters, was finally forced out, Mr. Hamzawy said. “He was trying very hard to stay in office, and he played his last card” by delegating authority to Mr. Suleiman. That move came far too late. “It badly failed, and they pushed him out,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by David D. Kirkpatrick, Anthony Shadid, Mona El-Naggar and Dawlat Magdy from Cairo, and Thomas Fuller from Tunis.

Friday, February 11, 2011

'Egypt is free': Mubarak gives up office - Crowds in Tahrir Square erupted in jubilant cheers on Friday after Vice President Suleiman, appearing briefly on Egypt state TV, announced that President Mubarak has stepped down from presidency. NBC’s Brian Williams, Richard Engel and Ron Allen report.

Mubarak Steps Down, Ceding Power to Military -

SHARM EL SHEIKH/EGYPT, 18MAY08 - Muhammad Hosn...Image via Wikipedia
CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt turned over all power to the military and left the Egyptian capital for his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on state television on Friday.

The announcement, delivered during evening prayers in Cairo, set off a frenzy of celebration, with protesters shouting “Egypt is free!”

The Egyptian military issued a communiqué pledging to carry out a variety of constitutional reforms in a statement notable for its commanding tone. The military’s statement alluded to the delegation of power to Mr. Suleiman and it suggested that the military would supervise implementation of the reforms. Mr. Mubarak “has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said in his statement.

David D. Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Liam Stack, Mona El-Naggar and Thanassis Cambanis from Cairo, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Marquette, Mich.

Army Backs Mubarak as Crowds Surge -

flag of the Kingdom of Egypt (1922–1958).Image via WikipediaArmy Backs Mubarak as Crowds Surge -

CAIRO — As tens of thousands of chanting protesters thronged central Cairo and elsewhere on the 18th day of Egypt’s uprising, the powerful armed forces scrambled on Friday to offer assurances and concessions, endorsing President Hosni Mubarak’s refusal to step down while seeking to defuse the outrage and anger it has provoked among protesters.

But it was not clear whether the military’s position would satisfy demonstrators who have previously cast the military as an ally and who want Mr. Mubarak to leave immediately — a demand the military did not come near to supporting in a statement on Friday after a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

In the statement, read out on state television, the military appeared to support Mr. Mubarak’s insistence, laid out in a speech on Thursday night, that he would remain in power until elections are held, delegate some unspecified authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman and oversee constitutional change.

At the same time, in an effort to meet some of the protesters’ demands, the military said it would guarantee the lifting of Egypt’s emergency law once the current protests were over and would defend “the lawful demands of the people.” The law was imposed after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 — which enabled Mr. Mubarak, then the vice president, to take power. Protesters say it has been used to suppress opposition.

The military’s statement, labeled Communiqué No. 2, followed an announcement on Thursday offering “affirmation and support for the legitimate demands of the people.”

On Friday, the military also promised that the “honorable people who have rejected corruption” and who have demanded reform would not be “pursued.” Many demonstrators fear that if they call off their protests they will face arrest and punishment.

In a direct appeal to the demonstrators to end protests that have forced the autocratic Mr. Mubarak to make once unthinkable concessions, the military said that people should return to work and resume normal life. The turmoil has cost Egypt dearly in terms of its economy, the prestige of its leaders and its vaunted reputation for stability.

The president’s declaration Thursday night immediately enraged hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in Tahrir Square in anticipation of his departure and set in motion a volatile new stage in the three-week uprising.

Western diplomats said that Egyptian government officials had assured them privately on Friday that they had expected Mr. Mubarak’s speech to signal that he was making a more complete exit, permanently and irrevocably delegating all his powers to his vice president.

But Mr. Mubarak’s speech confounded their expectations, leaving military officials and Egyptian diplomats scrambling to reassure their Western allies that Mr. Mubarak had indeed signaled a more definitive break with power, the diplomats said, speaking in return for anonymity because of the delicacy and fluidity of the deepening crisis.

Western diplomats and American officials say that Egypt’s top military commanders, including both the defense minister and the chairman of the armed forces, have told them for weeks that the Egyptian army would never use force against civilians to preserve the regime. Some depicted Mr. Mubarak’s speech as a sign that his power had effectively waned.

“The government of Egypt says absolutely, it is done, it is over,” a Western diplomat said, but “that is not what anybody heard,” in part because Mr. Mubarak’s delegation of power to his vice president did not seem to be irrevocable. But the developments nonetheless reopened the question of who wielded ultimate power in Egypt after the military’s growing intervention.

The military statement, broadcast first by a civilian announcer on state television and then by a uniformed military spokesman, came as the city — and many other places in Egypt — began noon prayers on Friday, the Muslim holy day and the beginning of the weekend, a moment that has been the prelude for large-scale demonstrations since the revolt started.

Several hundred protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in the suburb of Heliopolis, news reports said, but troops backed by armored vehicles and razor wire barricades did nothing to prevent them from assembling.

In the upscale neighborhood of Mohandiseen, about a thousand protesters spilled out of the Mustafa Mahmoud mosque to march on the Radio and Television Building, even though shouting matches broke out as some Egyptians watching them urged them to call off their protest since Mr. Mubarak repeated that he would leave in September when elections are scheduled. But one demonstrator, Mohamed Salwy, 44, said: “Mubarak doesn’t understand. I think these protests are going to have to go on for a long time.”

Once they arrived at the broadcasting center, they were joined by thousands of others, facing a ring of steel made up of a dozen armored personnel carriers and tanks forming a cordon.

Outside the capital, television images showed large numbers of protesters gathering under a sea of Egyptian flags in Alexandria.

The president’s 17-minute speech itself underlined a seemingly unbridgeable gap between ruler and ruled in Egypt: Mr. Mubarak, in paternalistic tones, talked in great detail about changes he planned to make to Egypt’s autocratic Constitution, while crowds in Tahrir Square, with bewilderment and anger, demanded that he step down.

Mr. Mubarak seemed oblivious. “It’s not about me,” he said in his address. When he was done, crowds in Cairo waved the bottoms of their shoes in the air, a gesture intended to convey disgust, and shouted, “Leave! Leave!”

The reaction abroad to Mr. Mubarak’s address was more measured, but also critical. President Obama issued a statement on Thursday night saying that “too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy.” European leaders also called for more fundamental change and urged that it happen faster.

Earlier in the day, even Mr. Obama seemed to believe that Mr. Mubarak would go further, celebrating his belief that Egypt was “witnessing history unfold.”

Instead, Mr. Mubarak, 82, a former general, struck a defiant, even provocative note. While he acknowledged for the first time that his government had made mistakes, he made it clear that he was still president and that reforms in Egypt would proceed under his government’s supervision and according to the timetable of elections in September.

Mr. Mubarak echoed the contention of officials in past days that foreigners might be behind the uprising, but he cited no evidence to support that allegation.

For hours before Mr. Mubarak’s speech, jubilant crowds, prematurely celebrating their victory, positioned themselves next to large speakers for what they assumed was a resignation speech. At about 10:45, the crowd quieted as Mr. Mubarak started his speech, which was transmitted via a tiny radio that someone held up to a microphone.

Soon, angry chants echoed through the square. People gathered in groups, confused, enraged and faced with Mr. Mubarak’s plea to endorse his vision of gradual reform. Some said his speech was intended to divide the protesters, by peeling off those who thought he had gone far enough. Others said it reflected the isolation of a president they had come to detest.

By midnight, about 3,000 protesters made their way from the square to the Radio and Television Building, which protesters loathe for propaganda that has cast them as troublemakers. In a sign of the confusion that reigned in Cairo, youthful opposition leaders sought to dissect the series of statements from the military command, Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman. Some believed that the army, long a player behind the scenes, was still intent on seeking power but had not yet mustered the leverage to force Mr. Mubarak from office.

It was unclear whether the military had tried to oust Mr. Mubarak and failed or was participating in a more complicated choreography in Egypt’s opaque system of rule.

Along with the protests, labor strikes have flared across Egypt, organized by workers at post offices, telecommunications centers, textile factories and cement plants. Clashes have occurred in distant parts of the country — from the New Valley west of the Nile to Suez, a city along the Suez Canal, which provides Egypt with crucial earnings.

While organizers have said Friday’s rallies may be some of the biggest protests yet, they spoke in darker tones about what they may represent now, given what many view as the determination of Mr. Mubarak to stay in office, whatever the numbers.

The anger was fueled in good part by expectations that Mr. Mubarak would be making his last address to the nation. For much of the day, people traded rumors about where he might be preparing to go to — Bahrain and Dubai were two rumored destinations — and then by a cascade of official statements suggesting that might be the case.

The first came from the civilian government. Around 3 p.m., Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told the BBC that talks with Mr. Mubarak about his possible resignation were already under way.

Gen. Hassan al-Roueini appeared in Tahrir Square to tell protesters that “all your demands will be met today,” witnesses said, words that were quickly read by crowds around him to mean that Mr. Mubarak was on the way out.

A short time later, the military, still seen as potentially decisive in the conflict, announced that it was taking action in what sounded to many people like a coup.

“In affirmation and support for the legitimate demands of the people, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces convened today, 10 February 2011, to consider developments to date,” an army spokesman declared on state television, in what was described as communiqué No. 1 of the army command, “and decided to remain in continuous session to consider what procedures and measures that may be taken to protect the nation, and the achievements and aspirations of the great people of Egypt.”

Around the same time, Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, the chief of staff of the armed forces, appeared in Tahrir Square to tell the protesters the same thing, to roars of celebration.

The reports seemed increasingly convincing, to both protesters and even high-ranking officials. Hossam Badrawy, the top official of the ruling party, said in a television interview that he had personally told the president he should resign. And, though Mr. Mubarak did not respond, Mr. Badrawy said he believed he would go. “That is my expectation, that is my hope,” he added in an interview. The news electrified protestors in the square and Mr. Mubarak opened his speech with words that suggested he was staying. “I am addressing all of you from the heart, a speech from the father to his sons and daughters,” he said. He expressed what he described as pride for them.

“Can this man be serious or did he lose his mind?” asked George Ishak, a longtime opposition leader. Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader and Nobel laureate, was blunter. “I ask the army to intervene immediately to save Egypt,” he wrote on his Twitter feed. “The credibility of the army is being put to the test.”

David D. Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Liam Stack, Mona El-Naggar and Thanassis Cambanis from Cairo, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Marquette, Mich.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak Refuses to Step Down -

Mubarak Refuses to Step Down -

CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak told the Egyptian people Thursday that he would delegate authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but that he would not resign, enraging hundreds of thousands gathered to hail his departure and setting the stage for what protesters promised would be the largest demonstrations since the uprising began last month.

The declaration by Mr. Mubarak that he would remain president marked another pivotal turn in the largest popular revolt in Egypt’s history, and some protesters warned that weeks of peaceful protests might give way to violence as early as Friday’s demonstrations. The 17-minute speech itself underlined the yawning gap between ruler and ruled in Egypt: Mr. Mubarak, in paternalistic tones, talked specifics of constitutional reform, while sprawling crowds in Tahrir Square, in a mix of bewilderment and anger, demanded he step down.

“It’s not about Hosni Mubarak,” he said.

After the speech, the mood in Tahrir Square, celebratory throughout the day, suddenly turned grim, as angry protesters waved their shoes in defiance — considered a deeply insulting gesture in the Arab world — and began chanting “Leave! Leave!”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition leader and Nobel laureate, called for the military to intervene to avoid an outbreak of violence. “Egypt will explode,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “Army must save the country now.”

Mr. Mubarak spoke after a tumultuous day in which the newly appointed head of his ruling party said the president had agreed to step down, and the military issued a communiqué in which it said it was intervening to safeguard the country, language some protesters and opposition leaders read as word of a possible coup d’état.

Instead, Mr. Mubarak, an 82-year-old former general, struck a defiant, even provocative note. While he acknowledged that his government had made some mistakes, he made clear he was still president and that reforms in Egypt would proceed under his government’s supervision and according to a timetable leading to elections in September.

He echoed the contention of his officials in past days that foreigners might be behind an uprising that has marked the most sweeping popular protests in the modern Middle East. “We will not accept or listen to any foreign interventions or dictations,” he said.

Even as he spoke, angry chants were shouted from the sprawling crowds in Tahrir Square, many of whom had gathered in anticipation of his resignation and were instead confronted with a plea from Mr. Mubarak to endorse his vision of gradual reform.

“Mubarak didn’t believe us until now, but we will make him believe tomorrow,” said Ashraf Osman, a 49-year-old accountant.

The president’s statement marked the latest twist and turn in a raucous uprising. Earlier in the day, the Egyptian military appeared poised to assert itself as the leading force in the country’s politics, declaring on state television that it would take measures “to maintain the homeland and the achievements and the aspirations of the great people of Egypt” and meet the demands of the protesters who have insisted on ending Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Several government officials said during the day that Mr. Mubarak was expected to announce his own resignation and pass authority to Mr. Suleiman. Even President Obama seemed to believe Mr. Mubarak would go further than he did. In a speech in Michigan before Mr. Mubarak’s address, he said Egypt was “witnessing history unfold.”

The new leader of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawy, said he was sure the president would step down.

“I know it is difficult for him,” he said. But he added, “I think I convinced him to do that as soon as possible.”

Earlier in the day, the military’s chief of staff, Sami Anan, made an appearance in Tahrir Square, where he pledged to safeguard the people’s demands and their security. Thousands of protesters roared in approval, but they also chanted “Civilian! Civilian!”

Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, also appeared in Tahrir Square and told the demonstrators, “All your demands will be met today.” Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs, shouting, “The people want the end of the regime” and “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” a victory cry used by secular and religious people alike.

Officials in Mr. Mubarak’s government had been warning for several days that protesters faced a choice between negotiating in earnest with the government on constitutional changes or having the military step in to guard against a descent into political chaos. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit seemed to add a further ominous tone to those comments on Thursday, telling Al Arabiya television, “If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step which would lead to a very dangerous situation.”

But if those words were meant to intimidate the protesters, they were ill-conceived. For weeks, the protesters have hoped the military would intervene on their side, even though it remained unclear whether the military would support democratic reforms that would threaten its status as the most powerful single institution in the country.

For much of its modern history, the military has played a powerful but behind-the-scenes role, reflecting its confidence that any government would protect its stature. Across the political spectrum, many wondered whether that posture had shifted after the military’s announcement.

“We’re excited and nervous,” said Ahmed Sleem, an organizer with an opposition group led by Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate. “If Mubarak and Suleiman leave, it would be a great thing. A six-month deadline for elections would be suitable.”

Asked about the possibility of a military takeover, he said he was not afraid. “We know how to force them to step down. We know the way to Tahrir Square.”

The overlapping statements by the military and civil authorities seemed to indicate a degree of confusion — or competing claims — about what kind of shift was underway, raising the possibility that competing forces did not necessarily see the power transfer the same way.

Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Liam Stack, Mona El-Naggar and Thanassis Cambanis from Cairo and Sheryl Stolberg from Marquette, Mich.

Military says Mubarak will meet protesters demands | Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- Military and ruling party officials say President Hosni Mubarak will speak to the nation soon and meet the demands of protesters. Protesters are insisting he step down immediately.

Military officials say the armed forces' supreme council has been meeting all day long and will issue a communique shortly that they say will meet the protesters' demands.

The ruling party chief, Hossan Badrawy, tells The Associated Press he expects Mubarak to address the nation and make a announcement that will satisfy their demands.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CAIRO (AP) - Military and ruling party officials say President Hosni Mubarak will meet protesters' demands.

Korean Talks End Abruptly as the North Walks Out -

The President of South Korea, mr Lee Myung-bak...Image via WikipediaKorean Talks End Abruptly as the North Walks Out -

SEOUL, South Korea — Military discussions between North and South Korea ended suddenly on Wednesday with no improvement in the countries’ badly strained relations and no agreement about whether to hold more substantive talks in the future.

The failure of the talks is likely to create more uncertainty about the resumption of the six-nation talks dealing with the North’s nuclear programs.

North Korea, China and Russia have pressed for a prompt resumption of that process, which broke down in April 2009 when North Korea withdrew from the talks and expelled United Nations nuclear inspectors.

South Korea, the United States and Japan — alarmed at the North’s revelations about its expanded uranium enrichment program — have rejected the idea of new six-nation talks until substantive inter-Korean discussions are held.

A Defense Ministry official in Seoul said the talks on Wednesday ended abruptly at 2:30 p.m. when the North Korean delegation “unilaterally walked away from the table and out of the meeting room.”

Another military official said the North Korean delegation had repeatedly refused to apologize for an artillery barrage against a South Korean island in November and a torpedo attack in March that sank a South Korean warship and killed 46 sailors. The North has said that the artillery exchange was provoked by the South and that it was not involved in the sinking of the ship.

The talks were the first inter-Korean dialogue since the shelling of the island. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in the attack, and substantial public anger in the South has served to reinforce President Lee Myung-bak’s hard-line policy toward the North.

The aim of the talks, which were described by government officials as low-level and preliminary, was to make arrangements for substantive high-level military discussions. But the two sides “failed to narrow the differences over the agenda for a high-level meeting,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry.

The two delegations, led by army colonels, began their meeting on Tuesday at the border village of Panmunjom. When the meeting ran long on Tuesday, the North asked for another session on Wednesday.

The failure to reach an agreement on future talks also scuttled the immediate prospects for cross-border reunions between family members separated by the Korean War.

Responding to a request by the North about a new round of reunions, an official with the Unification Ministry in Seoul said Wednesday that talks about family gatherings would be held only after “high-level military talks are conducted.”

Tens of thousands of Koreans have signed up for a chance to be reunited with relatives. The last round of reunions was held in November.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Protesters in Egypt Regain Initiative as Workers Strike -

President George W. Bush and Egyptian Presiden...Image via WikipediaProtesters in Egypt Regain Initiative as Workers Strike -

CAIRO —Labor strikes and worker protests that flared across Egypt on Wednesday affected post offices, textile factories and even the government’s flagship newspaper, as protesters recaptured the initiative in their battle for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

At the newspaper, Al Ahram, freelance reporters demanding better wages and more independence from the government snarled one of the state’s most powerful propaganda tools and seemed to be forcing a change in its tone. On Wednesday, the front page, which had sought for days to downplay the protests, called recent attacks by pro-Mubarak protesters on Tahrir Square an “offense to the whole nation.”

In the face of unrest now in its 16th day, government officials delivered stern warnings that seemed to reflect growing impatience with the protests, and hardening positions.

The country’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, dismissed calls by Egyptian protesters and the Vice President Joe Biden to scrap the country’s emergency laws, which allow the authorities to detain people without charge.

“We have 17,000 prisoners loose in the streets out of jails that have been destroyed,” Mr. Aboul Gheit said. “How can you ask me to sort of disband that emergency law while I’m in that difficulty?”

His comment came on the heels of a warning the night before from Mr. Mubarak’s hand-picked successor, Vice President Omar Suleiman, that the only alternative to constitutional talks was a “coup.” “We don’t want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools,” Mr. Suleiman said.

Several hundred of the pro-democracy protesters who marched on Parliament, a few blocks from Tahrir Square, camped out there overnight.

By midday, hundreds of workers from the Health Ministry, adjacent to Parliament and a few hundred yards from the square, also took to the streets in a protest whose exact focus was not immediately clear, Interior Ministry officials said.

By nightfall, tens of thousands of protesters filled the square and more than a thousand prepared for another nighttime encampment outside Parliament, a symbolic move that showed the movement’s growing confidence.

Government officials said the protests had spread to the previously quiet southern region of Upper Egypt.

In Port Said, a city of 600,000 at the mouth of the Suez Canal, protesters set fire to a government building and occupied the city’s central square. There were unconfirmed reports that police fired live rounds on protesters on Tuesday in El Kharga, 375 miles south of Cairo, resulting in several deaths. Protesters responded by burning police stations and other government buildings on Wednesday, according to wire reports.

On Tuesday, the officials said, thousands protested in the province of Wadi El Jedid. One person died and 61 were injured, including seven from gunfire by the authorities, the officials said. Television images also showed crowds gathering in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city.

Before the reports of those clashes, Human Rights Watch reported that more than 300 people have been killed since Jan. 25.

Increasingly, the political clamor for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster seemed to be complemented by strikes.

In the most potentially significant action, about 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority — a major component of the Egyptian economy — began a sit-in on Tuesday night. There was no immediate suggestion of disruptions to shipping in the canal, a vital international waterway leading from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But Egyptian officials said that total traffic declined by 1.6 percent in January, though it was up significantly from last year.

More than 2,000 textile workers and others in Suez demonstrated as well, Al Ahram reported, while in Luxor thousands hurt by the collapse of the tourist industry marched to demand government benefits. There was no immediate independent corroboration of the reports.

At one factory in the textile town of Mahalla, more than striking 1,500 workers blocked roads, continuing a long-running dispute with the owner. And more than 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in the city of Quesna went on strike while some 5,000 unemployed youth stormed a government building in Aswan, demanding the dismissal of the governor.

For many foreign visitors to Egypt, Aswan is known as a starting point or destination for luxury cruises to and from Luxor on the Nile River. The government’s Ministry of Civil Aviation reported on Wednesday that flights to Egypt had dropped by 70 percent since the protests began.

In Cairo, sanitation workers demonstrated around their headquarters in Dokki.

While state television has focused its coverage on episodes of violence that could spread fear among the wider Egyptian public and prompt calls for the restoration, Al Ahram’s coverage was a distinct departure from its usual practice of avoiding reporting that might embarrass the government.

In the lobby of the newspaper on Wednesday, journalists were in open revolt against the newspaper’s management and editorial policies. Several said the editor of the English-language division heads to the square to join the protests every night, joined by many of the staff.Some called their own protest a microcosm of the Egyptian uprising, with young journalists leading demands for better working conditions and less biased coverage. “We want a voice,” said Sara Ramadan, 23, a sports reporter.

The paper described how “more than 500 media figures” issued a statement declaring “their rejection of official media coverage of the January 25 uprising and demanded that Minister of Information Anas El-Fikki step down.”

Members of the Journalists Syndicate moved toward a no-confidence vote against their leader, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, a former Mubarak speech writer, the daily Al Masry Al Youm reported on its English-language Web site.

The scattered protests and labor unrest seemed symptomatic of an emerging trend for some Egyptians to air an array of grievances, some related to the protests and some of an older origin.

The government’s bid to project its willingness to make concessions has had limited success. On Tuesday, Vice President Suleiman announced the creation of a committee of judges and legal scholars to propose constitutional amendments. But all the members are considered Mubarak loyalists.

The Obama administration was continuing its efforts to influence a transition. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called Mr. Suleiman on Tuesday to ask him to lift the 30-year emergency law that the government has used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders, to stop imprisoning protesters and journalists, and to invite demonstrators to help develop a specific timetable for opening up the political process. He also asked Mr. Suleiman to open talks on Egypt’s political future to a wider range of opposition members.

Mr. Suleiman has said only that Egypt will remove the emergency law when the situation justifies its repeal, and the harassment and arrest of journalists and human rights activists has continued even in the last few days.

And while he raised the prospect of a coup, he also said, “we want to avoid that — meaning uncalculated and hasty steps that produce more irrationality.”

“There will be no ending of the regime, nor a coup, because that means chaos,” Mr. Suleiman said. And he warned the protesters not to attempt more civil disobedience, calling it “extremely dangerous.” He added, “We absolutely do not tolerate it.”

Many in the crowd discussed the inspiration they drew from the emotional interview on Monday night with the online organizer, Wael Ghonim, hours after he was freed from nearly two weeks of secret detention. A Google executive, he had been the anonymous administrator of a Facebook group that enlisted tens of thousands to oppose the Mubarak government by publicizing a young Egyptian’s beating death at the hands of its reviled police force.

In the tearful conversation on Egypt’s Dream TV, Mr. Ghonim told the story of his “kidnapping,” secret imprisonment in blindfolded isolation for 12 days and determination to overturn Egypt’s authoritarian government. Both Mr. Ghonim and his interviewer, Mona el-Shazly, appeared in Tahrir Square Tuesday to cheer on the revolt.

Some protesters said they saw the broadcast as a potential turning point in a propaganda war that has so far gone badly against them, with the state-run television network and newspapers portraying the crowds in Tahrir Square as a dwindling band of obstructionists doing the bidding of foreign interests.

Reporting was contributed by David D. Kirkpatrick, Anthony Shadid, Mona El-Naggar, Thanassis Cambanis and Liam Stack.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Julian Assange Extradition Hearing Begins Monday As WikiLeaks Founder Faces Legal Battle

The Subtle Roar of Online Whistle-blowing: Jul...Image by New Media Days via FlickrJulian Assange Extradition Hearing Begins Monday As WikiLeaks Founder Faces Legal Battle

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his entourage of lawyers, supporters, protesters and journalists are headed back to a London court for a showdown between the secret-spilling computer hacker and Swedish authorities who want him extradited to face sex crimes allegations.

A two-day hearing that begins Monday will decide Assange's legal fate. It will also keep the spotlight away from WikiLeaks' revelations and on its opinion-dividing frontman.

Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met during a visit to Stockholm last year. At Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, a high-security judicial outpost beside a prison, defense lawyers will argue that he should not be extradited because he has not been charged with a crime, because of flaws in Swedish prosecutors' case – and because a ticket to Sweden could land him in Guantanamo Bay or on U.S. death row.

American officials are trying to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks, which has angered Washington by publishing a trove of leaked diplomatic cables and secret U.S. military files. Assange's lawyers claim the Swedish prosecution is linked to the leaks and politically motivated.

Preliminary defense arguments released by Assange's legal team claim "there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the U.S. will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere."

The document adds that "there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty" if sent to the United States. Under European law, suspects cannot be extradited to jurisdictions where they may face execution.

Many legal experts say the Guantanamo claims are fanciful, and Sweden strongly denies coming under American pressure.

Nils Rekke, head of the legal department at the Swedish prosecutor's office in Stockholm, said Assange would be protected from transfer to the U.S. by strict European rules.

"If Assange was handed over to Sweden in accordance with the European Arrest Warrant, Sweden cannot do as Sweden likes after that," he said. "If there were any questions of an extradition approach from the U.S., then Sweden would have to get an approval from the United Kingdom."

Assange's lawyers will also battle extradition on the ground that he has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is only wanted for questioning.

They argue that "it is a well-established principle of extradition law ... that mere suspicion should not found a request for extradition."

Lawyers for Sweden have yet to disclose their legal arguments.

WikiLeaks sparked an international uproar last year when it published a secret helicopter video showing a U.S. attack that killed two Reuters journalists in Baghdad. It went on to release hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it later began publishing classified U.S. diplomatic cables whose revelations angered and embarrassed the U.S. and its allies.

The furor made Assange, 39, a global celebrity. The nomadic Australian was arrested in London in December after Sweden issued a warrant on rape and molestation accusations.

Released on bail on condition he live – under curfew and electronically tagged – at a supporter's country mansion in eastern England, Assange has managed to conduct multiple media interviews, sign a reported $1.5 million deal for a memoir, and pose for a magazine Christmas photo shoot dressed as Santa Claus.

He drew a large media scrum at a brief court appearance in London last month, where he vowed to step up the leak of a quarter million classified U.S. diplomatic cables.

The full extradition hearing should shed light on the contested events of Assange's trip to Sweden, where WikiLeaks' data are stored on servers at a secure center tunneled into a rocky Stockholm hillside. Two Swedish women say they met Assange when he visited the country and separately had sex with him, initially by consent.

In police documents leaked on the Internet, one of the women told officers she woke up as Assange was having sex with her, but let him continue even though she knew he wasn't wearing a condom. Having sex with a sleeping person can be considered rape in Sweden.

Assange is also accused of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion against the second woman. The leaked documents show she accuses him of deliberately damaging a condom during consensual sex, which he denies.

The picture is more confused by the fact that one Stockholm prosecutor threw out the rape case, before a more senior prosecutor later reinstated it and asked for Assange's extradition from Britain so she could question him.

Assange's lawyers argue that amid the confusion, the European arrest warrant was improperly issued. They allege Assange "has been the victim of a pattern of illegal and/or corrupt behavior by the Swedish prosecuting authorities," who leaked his name to the media, rejected his requests to be interviewed from London, and failed to make the evidence against him available in English.

They also say the accusations against Assange would not constitute a crime in Britain, and complain they have not been given access to text messages and tweets by the two women which allegedly undermine their claims. They say text messages exchanged by the claimants "speak of revenge and of the opportunity to make lots of money."

Whatever happens in court this week, Assange's long legal saga – and his stay in the tranquil Norfolk countryside – is far from over. The extradition hearing is due to end Tuesday, but Judge Howard Riddle is likely to take several weeks to consider his ruling – which can be appealed by either side.

Assange, meanwhile, may be tiring of his nomadic life. On Friday he told a meeting in Melbourne by video link that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard "should be taking active steps to bring me home."

AOL to Buy The Huffington Post -

Image representing Huffington Post as depicted...Image via CrunchBaseAOL to Buy The Huffington Post -

The Huffington Post, which began in 2005 with a meager $1 million investment and has grown into one of the most heavily visited news Web sites in the country, is being acquired by AOL in a deal that creates an unlikely pairing of two online media giants.

The two companies completed the sale Sunday evening and announced the deal just after midnight on Monday. AOL will pay $315 million, $300 million of it in cash and the rest in stock. It will be the company’s largest acquisition since it was separated from Time Warner in 2009.

The deal will allow AOL to greatly expand its news gathering and original content creation, areas that its chief executive, Tim Armstrong, views as vital to reversing a decade-long decline.

Arianna Huffington, the cable talk show pundit, author and doyenne of the political left, will take control of all of AOL’s editorial content as president and editor in chief of a newly created Huffington Post Media Group. The arrangement will give her oversight not only of AOL’s national, local and financial news operations, but also of the company’s other media enterprises like MapQuest and Moviefone.

By handing so much control over to Ms. Huffington and making her a public face of the company, AOL, which has been seen as apolitical, risks losing its nonpartisan image. Ms. Huffington said her politics would have no bearing on how she ran the new business.

The deal has the potential to create an enterprise that could reach more than 100 million visitors in the United States each month. For The Huffington Post, which began as a liberal blog with a small staff but now draws some 25 million visitors every month, the sale represents an opportunity to reach new audiences. For AOL, which has been looking for ways to bring in new revenue as its dial-up Internet access business declines, the millions of Huffington Post readers represent millions in potential advertising dollars.

“This is a statement that the company is making investments, and in this case a bold investment, that fits right into our strategy,” Mr. Armstrong said in an interview Sunday. “I think this is going to be a situation where 1 plus 1 equals 11.”

Ms. Huffington and Mr. Armstrong began discussing the possibility of a sale only last month. They came to know each other well after they both attended a media conference in November and quickly discovered, as Ms. Huffington put it, “we were practically finishing each other’s sentences.” She added: “It was really amazing how aligned our visions were.”

One of The Huffington Post’s strengths has been creating an online community of readers with tens of millions of people. Their ability to leave comments on Huffington Post news articles and blog posts and to share them on Twitter and Facebook has been a major reason the site attracts so many readers. It is routine for articles to draw thousands of comments each and be cross-linked across multiple social networks.

Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Huffington say that AOL’s local news initiative, Patch, and its citizen journalist venture, Seed, stand to thrive when paired with the reader engagement tools of The Huffington Post.

AOL’s own news Web sites like Politics Daily and Daily Finance are likely to disappear when the deal is completed, and many of the writers who work for those sites will become Huffington Post writers, according to people with knowledge of the deal, who asked not to be identified discussing plans that are still being worked out.

Although AOL is publicly traded, The Huffington Post is a private company and does not disclose its financial data. But Ms. Huffington, who co-founded the site with Kenneth Lerer in 2005, said it had its first profitable year in 2010 and was poised to continue growing. . Huffington Post executives estimate that the Web site will generate $60 million in revenue this year, compared with $31 million last year.

The sale means a huge payout for Huffington Post investors and holders of its stock and options, who stand to profit earlier than if the company had waited to grow large enough for an initial public offering.

While Huffington Post has been growing — it now employs more than 200 people, a threefold increase in just the last few years — AOL has been shrinking. Last year it eliminated close to 2,500 positions, roughly a third of its staff. Although its most recent earnings estimates beat Wall Street expectations, revenues for the fourth quarter were down 26 percent from a year earlier as dial-up customers continued to disappear. Ad revenue, which is seen as the company’s main business going forward, was down 29 percent from the year before.

Since 2009, the company has untangled itself from its ill-fated merger with Time Warner, a legacy media company with print magazines, a film studio and television channels. AOL, not fully a media company, not fully a technology company, never melded with its corporate partner.

As its own company, AOL has emphasized editorial content, a strategy that is intended to keep it competitive in an Internet marketplace dominated by Google. AOL is betting that it can sell, alongside that content, local advertising and display advertising, areas that Google does not dominate.

Last year, AOL acquired the influential technology news blog TechCrunch for $25 million to supplement its technology coverage, which already included the blog Engadget.

While AOL has invested heavily in creating content through enterprises like Patch, the initiative meant to fill the void in areas where struggling local newspapers have cut back on reporting, much of their writing and news gathering is not up to the standards of what consumers get from their traditional news sources.

The Huffington Post, too, has faced criticism over its content, much of which is aggregated from other news sources. But it has started to invest more in original reporting and writing, hiring experienced journalists from The New York Times, Newsweek and other traditional media outlets. By acquiring The Huffington Post’s reporting resources, AOL hopes to counter the perception that it is a farm for subpar content.

“The reason AOL is acquiring The Huffington Post is because we are absolutely passionate, big believers in the future of the Internet, big believers in the future of content,” Mr. Armstrong said.

In that sense, the deal carries a risk for The Huffington Post, which has had none of AOL’s troubles and is widely viewed as a business success with its own unique voice and identity. Now that it is to become part of a large corporate entity, what becomes of that unique character is an open question.

“The potential is great; it’s almost overwhelming,” said Howard Fineman, The Huffington Post’s senior political editor. “But the key will be to engage people who really want to be engaged, and make it hospitable to them, draw them in and expand the sense of community without losing them at the same time.”

David Carr contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 7, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the amount that AOL paid for TechCrunch. The technology news blog was acquired for $25 million, not more than $35 million.