Mubarak quits as ruling party chief, protesters seek his exit (Intro-Roundup)

February 6th, 2011 - 1:09 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Cairo/Washington, Feb 5 (IANS) Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Saturday night quit as the ruling party chief, but the tens of thousands gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square stayed put demanding his immediate ouster.Under intense pressure from the US to make way for a new regime and free and fair elections, the president of three decades put in his papers as chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP).

Al Jazeera quoted state television as saying that other top leaders of the ruling party have also quit on the 12th straight day of mass anti-Mubarak protests engulfing Egypt.

Hossam Badrawi has been appointed the new secretary-general of the party. He replaces Safwat El-Sherif, a Mubarak loyalist.

Badrawi will also replace Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s son, as head of the party’s political bureau.

The developments are, however, unlikely to appease the US or the mounting opposition to his three decades of rule that critics say borders on despotism and nepotism.

Despite the continuing demonstrations and the resignations, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said stability was returning to the country and that he was confident a deal could be reached on constitutional reforms.

At a news conference aired on state television, Shafiq suggested that the government was seeking to enter into talks with enough opposition representatives to isolate street protesters.

Saturday’s protests in Cairo were calm, with the exception of a standoff between two groups who were chanting slogans.

There were about 10,000 people in Tahrir Square and queues of people trying to get in. About 500 people joined the protesters from the port city of Suez.

Al Jazeera reported that the army was “behaving as if it’s back to business as usual Sunday”.

“The army is still securing the square, but their agenda appears to be isolating the protesters - keeping them safe, yes, but also minimising their impact on the surrounding areas,” the report said.

Mubarak is under intense pressure to quit. He said he was willing to step down at the end of his term in September, not now.

The protesters have made it clear that they would not budge till Mubarak steps down.

“It’s either death, or freedom,” a protester said.

The protests had turned violent Wednesday and Thursday, leaving 13 people dead and over 1,000 injured.

Amid the political storm, it emerged Saturday that there had been an assassination attempt on Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former spy chief, shortly after he assumed the new post Jan 29.

The assassination attempt left two of his bodyguards dead, Fox News said.

The Egyptian security officials, however, denied the assassination bid on Suleiman.

On Saturday, a massive explosion rocked a pipeline supplying gas to Israel, near the town of El Arish, close to the Egyptian-Israeli border.

The state television blamed it on “terrorists who took advantage of the unstable security situation in the country”.

The media has come under attack in Cairo.

Egyptian journalist Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, who worked for al-Ta’awun newspaper, died Friday of a gunshot wound suffered while covering the Jan 28 unrest in Cairo, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

His death was the first of a journalist covering the Egyptian uprising.

As demonstrators across Egypt pressed for Mubarak’s ouster, the US stepped in.

Short of asking Mubarak to quit, US President Barack Obama served notice on the key ally that the transition of power “must begin now” and lead to free and fair elections.

Talks between the Egyptian government and its political opponents were in the initial stages, Obama noted Friday, but warned that the mere “pretense of reform” would not be enough.

The negotiations must include a broad representation of the Egyptian opposition, he told reporters.

Asked if Mubarak needs to step down now, as opposed to waiting for a successor to be chosen in the September election, Obama said Mubarak needs to listen to what’s “being voiced by the Egyptian people”.

Obama, who has had two conversations with Mubarak since the crisis began in January, said the question Mubarak needs to ask himself is: “How do we make that transition effective, and lasting, and legitimate?”.

A defiant Mubarak Saturday met ministers holding economic portfolios and the head of the central bank at the presidential palace in Cairo.

DPA reported that newly appointed Finance Minister Samir Radwan and central bank Governor Farouq al-Oqda joined the ministers of oil, trade and social security at the meeting.

Officials indicated that banks could see a limited reopening Sunday though there would be limits on withdrawals. The stock exchange could also reopen Monday.

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