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Rediff.com  » News » Egypt protestors defy vice president, continue stir

Egypt protestors defy vice president, continue stir

February 09, 2011 21:41 IST
Anti-government unrest appeared to be spreading in Egypt as an obdurate President Hosni Mubarak continued to cling to power even after days of a relentless 'Go Mubarak' campaign and the protesters attempted to storm the country's Parliament on Wednesday in their latest bid to oust a hated regime.

Infuriated by the new Vice President Omar Suleiman's threat of either "dialogue or coup," protesters stepped up their stir, demanding an immediate dissolution of the assembly.

In a fresh move to broaden their movement, several hundred protesters attempted to block the entrance to the Parliament building, blocks away from the Tahrir Square, but were stopped by heavily-armed soldiers.

Unable to rush into the premises, the protesters squatted in front of the gates, blocking entry to the building and later announced that they would not allow lawmakers from the ruling National Democratic Party to go inside.

"Closed until the fall of the regime," read a sign put up by the demonstrators outside the Parliament building.

"We will die here till our demands for departure of Mubarak are met," a protester said.

Thousands of protesters -- who staged their biggest rally on Tuesday since the demonstrations demanding embattled President Hosni Mubarak's immediate ouster began on January 25 -- ignored a government plan to transfer power in an orderly manner and continued their sit-in on the now iconic Tahrir Square, the hub of the mass uprising in the heart of Cairo.

In indications that the protests were spreading across Egypt, strikes were taking place nationwide, including in Mahalla and Suez, with labour unions joining in demanding higher wages and better treatment.

"Numbers are said to have reached around 10,000 workers at various factories in different cities over the past 24 hours," pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera reported.

At the Suez Canal, the crucial state-owned trade link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, about 6,000 workers have gone on strike and there were reports of industrial unrest from across the country.

Scrambling to find ways out of the crisis, the regime has set free 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, over the last two days.

Human Rights Watch said that the death toll during the last 13 days has mounted to 302, with the bulk of fatalities coming from Cairo, but Egypt's health ministry has denied these figures.

Meanwhile, AFP reported that at least three people had died and 100 were wounded in two days of clashes between police and protesters in southern Egypt's El Kharga town, more than 400 kilometres south of Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood said that they were open to a dialogue with the regime, but insisted that Mubarak has to go first.

"The president must leave his position. A new era should start," Brotherhood spokesperson Mohammed Mursi said as the protests entered their 16th day.

Ayman Nour and Mohammed ElBaradei, the opposition leaders, strongly assailed the warning from the vice president that if the movement does not enter negotiations, a "coup" could take place, causing greater chaos in the country.

"If dialogue is not successful, the alternative is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps including lots of irrationalities," Suleiman told editors of state and independent newspapers on Tuesday night.

The comments from the powerful vice president appear to be a possible hint at imposing military law. However, some pro-government newspapers' editors said the reference could also be to a possible takeover by state institutions or Islamist groups.

The protests against 82-year-old Mubarak's autocratic regime got a fresh impetus after Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google Inc marketing manager who was a key organiser of the online campaign that sparked ongoing demonstrations, joined the rallies on Tuesday.

"We will not abandon our demand, and that is the departure of Mubarak's 30-year regime," Ghonim, who was released on February 7 following his detention on January 27, told the crowd.

The United States has, meanwhile, called on Egyptian government to carry out an "immediate" and "irreversible" transition process in the country, while emphasising the need to broaden dialogue with opposition groups.

US Vice President Joe Biden, in a telephonic conversation with Suleiman, urged him to restrain the ministry of interior's conduct by immediately ending arrest, beating, and detention of journalists, political and civil society activists, and by allowing freedom of assembly and expression, and rescinding of the emergency law which is in place since

1981 when Mubarak came to power.

Vowing to support an orderly transition that is prompt, meaningful, peaceful and legitimate, Biden took note of steps the government of Egypt has pledged to take in response to the opposition and urged it to take immediate action to follow through on its commitments, the White House said.

The White House also acknowledged that transition to democracy in Egypt was not going to be easy.

"This is not going to be an easy road. There will be bumps along the way," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington, when asked about the progress being made in transition towards a true democracy in the country.

British Premier David Cameron too demanded an immediate and broad-based transition, saying the regime should respond with political reforms and not repression.

Notwithstanding a series of concessions offered by Mubarak's regime like pay hikes, a free media and promise of lifting of emergency curbs, the protesters have vowed to intensify their struggle till they end his rule.

 

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