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Egypt govt, opposition agree on peaceful transition

Last updated on: February 06, 2011 21:37 IST

The campaign against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took a decisive turn on Sunday as the regime and opposition groups including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood agreed to form a committee to study constitutional reform to chart a way towards a transition of power.

Egypt's opposition groups and the ruling regime entered into landmark negotiations today that came after 13 days of unrelenting street protests by Egyptians seeking an end to Mubarak's 30-year rule and a move towards a representative government.

The first day of talks resulted in an agreement over a the setting up of a committee comprising political and judicial figures to study possible constitutional amendments on putting term limits for the presidential tenures and defining rules for who can run for the presidency, according to the state media. However, there is so far no confirmation on this from the opposition camp.

This is the first time that Egypt's ruling regime has entered into any kind of negotiations with the Brotherhood, which has a vast organisational network in the country and is widely expected to fill the political space in a post-Mubarak democratic Egypt.

The committee has been asked to finish its task by the first week of March following which the future course of action will be decided. However, so far there appears to be no indication that Mubarak would step down immediately as demanded by the thousands of protesters who have been camping at Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The opposition groups met Vice President Omar Suleiman to press for their "legitimate demands", even as central Cairo remained flooded with demonstrators who observed a 'Day of Martyrs' to honour those killed in the anti-government unrest.

The landmark talks aimed at bringing a peaceful end to the mass uprising came a day after the top leadership of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party resigned en masse. The top executive of the NDP, which includes Mubarak's son Gamal Mubarak who is head of the powerful policies committee, resigned from the party.

According to the Brotherhood's website, group's senior leaders began the talks, demanding an immediate elimination of emergency law and guarantees for peaceful protests.

"We are starting a round of talks to know how serious they are about responding to the demands of the people," said Brotherhood spokesman Gamal Abul Nasser.

Brotherhood, which is officially banned in Egypt but enjoys popular support, said it would drop out if demands expressed by the protesters that President Mubarak must step down is not met.

The talks were joined by a number of other smaller opposition groups, including Wafd and Tagammu. Key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, however, was not present at the talks.

The talks are backed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said the government's dialogue with the opposition must be given time.

Meanwhile, the demonstrators rejected the shuffle in NDP as a cosmetic move as they managed to keep their position in the Tahrir Square -- the hub of anti-regime protests in central Cairo -- despite a heavy army presence and attacks by pro-government supporters.

The protesters described Sunday as "Day of Martyrs", to honour those killed in the protests. They have called for fresh multi-million-strong marches on Tuesday and Friday.

Meanwhile, a semblance of normalcy returned to the Egyptian capital as banks and shops opened after over a week and people queued up to withdraw money and purchase necessities. The Egyptian army has tightened security around the square and prevented food from reaching the protesters.

At least 300 people are believed to have been killed and thousands injured since the protests began on January 25, according to the UN high commissioner for human rights.

In a late-night shake up, Hossam Badrawi was named the new secretary-general of the NDP, replacing Safwat El-Sherif, a Mubarak loyalist. Badrawi, seen by many as a liberal, will also replace Gamal Mubarak as head of the party's policies bureau.

Other new appointees include Mohamed Ragah Ahmed, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Illah, Maged Mahmoud Younes El-Shirbiny, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Salam Hebah and Dr Mohamed Mostafa Kamal, Al Jazeera channel reported.

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