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Protests Continue In Egypt As Crisis Talks Take Place Behind The Scenes




By RFE/RL

Egyptian state television says the senior executive committee of the country's ruling National Democratic Party has resigned, including Gamal Mubarak, the son of embattled President Hosni Mubarak.

The announcement came after President Mubarak met with his economic team as antigovernment protests entered their 12th day in the country.

The political crisis reportedly has cost the country an estimated $3.1 billion since unrest began January 25.

Protesters remain in central Tahrir Square, where the mood is calm.

After midday prayers today, Egyptian Army troops could be seen trying to remove the gutted frames of vehicles that protesters have used as barricades since fighting Mubarak supporters earlier in the week.

Some demonstrators lay on the ground in front of army tanks at Tahrir Square amid rumors that the troops were preparing to withdraw from the area.

The protesters see Egypt's military as a degree of protection from police or regime supporters that they fear will attack again -- even though the government has promised it would not try to eject protesters from Tahrir Square by force.

Opposition leaders say the protests will not end until Mubarak leaves office but that the main protests from now on will be scheduled for Tuesdays and Fridays.

Mubarak told U.S. media he is "fed up" with ruling, but fears chaos if he steps down now.

Abdel-Rahman Youssef, a youth activist involved in organizing the unprecedented wave of antigovernment protests in Egypt, said today that he other protest leaders had met with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq late on February 4 to discuss ways to arrange Mubarak's departure.

Youssef said the meeting was not the start of negotiations but rather "a message to see how to resolve the crisis." He said the message is that Mubarak's regime "must recognize the legitimacy of the revolution and that Mubarak must leave one way or the either, either a real or political departure."

Some 300,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square on February 4.

In Washington, the White House reportedly is talking to members of Mubarak's regime about a proposal that would see Mubarak resigning immediately and handing power to a transitional government supported by the Egyptian Army and led by Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief that Mubarak appointed as his vice president a week ago.

The proposed transitional government would immediately start the process of constitutional reforms. It also would meet with a range of opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, to prepare for free and fair elections in the autumn.

U.S. President Barack Obama said "the whole world" is watching events unfold in Egypt. He also condemned violence that has erupted as a response to the antigovernment demonstrations as grave violations of "human rights, universal values and international norms."

"Right now a great and ancient civilization is going through a time of tumult and transformation, and even as there are great challenges, and great uncertainty, I am confident that the Egyptian people can shape the future that they deserve," Obama said. "And as they do, they will continue to have a strong friend and partner in the United States of America.”

Speaking from Munich today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said change is a "strategic necessity" that will make Arab nations stronger and their people more prosperous and less susceptible to extremist ideologies.

She said the region is being "battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends," with a growing majority of young people who are unable to find work but increasingly enabled by technology to communicate with each other and follow global events.

"Leaders in the region may be able to hold back the tide for a little while, but not for long," she said. "That has been the story of the last weeks. It is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo, and cities throughout the area. The status quo is simply not sustainable."

Role For Brotherhood?

Mubarak has said that neither he nor his son will not run for election in a vote scheduled for September. Trying to launch a transition while Mubarak serves out the rest of his term, Suleiman has offered talks with all political forces over constitutional changes to ensure a free vote.

Suleiman said his invitation goes out to protest leaders and the regime's top foe, the Muslim Brotherhood. That was significant, suggesting the banned fundamentalist group could be allowed an open political role in the post-Mubarak era.

WATCH -- Protests intensified in Cairo on February 4 in an effort to force the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak (video by Reuters):




But the protest factions are sticking to their demands that Mubarak must resign before any negotiations on constitutional changes.

Suleiman has talked of changing the constitution to ensure fair supervision of elections, loosen restrictions on who can run for president, and impose a term limit for the presidency.

Reformist leader and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and other protest leaders demand more. They want an end to an emergency law that gives security forces near unlimited powers and demand greater freedom to form political parties.

Currently, any new party effectively needs approval by Mubarak's ruling party. As a result, the existing opposition parties are largely shells with little popular support or organization.

EU To Cairo

European Union officials also are urging a speedy political transition in Egypt. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said he will travel to Cairo -- probably on February 6 -- on behalf of the EU for talks with Mubarak.

Egypt is high on the agenda of a security conference today in Munich that brings together Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with other European leaders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the conference today that change in Egypt must be peaceful. She also said it would be "remiss" not to side with demonstrators who demand change in Egypt.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the longer change is put off in Egypt, the more likely we are to get "an Egypt we wouldn't welcome."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened today's session in Munich by saying the protests in the Arab world are driven by "human insecurity" and "poverty" but also "corruption" and a "deficit of democracy."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saluted what he termed an "Islamic liberation movement" in the Arab world, and advised the people of Egypt as well as Tunisia to unite around their religion and against the West.

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera said its news offices in Cairo had been attacked, with computers and other equipment set on fire.

with agency reports

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