Egypt Regime Digs in as Death Toll Mounts in Tahrir Square

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The Guardian/UK

Egypt Regime Digs in as Death Toll Mounts in Tahrir Square

Mubarak: 'If I resign today there will be chaos' • 10 dead and hundreds injured in fresh crackdown • Journalists arrested and attacked by pro-Mubaraks

by
Jack Shenker and Peter Beaumont in Cairo, Harriet Sherwood in Alexandria, and Julian Borger

The Egyptian regime dug in today, defying international pressure to
begin an immediate transfer of power while launching attacks on
journalists and human rights observers.

Egypt's
vice-president Omar Suleiman offered political concessions, inviting
the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood to a dialogue. However, the Islamist
movement and other opposition parties have refused to talk until
President Hosni Mubarak steps down.

Mubarak
told America's ABC News tonight: "I am fed up. After 62 years in public
service I have had enough. I want to go." But he added he could not
step down immediately for fear that the country would sink into chaos.

He said he had told Barack Obama: "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."

The
government's readiness to negotiate, following Mubarak's own promise
not to run for re-election in September, also failed to stem the
pressure for faster and more radical change from anti-government
protesters on the streets of Egypt's cities and from other world
leaders.

Ten people were reported dead and 800 injured yesterday
at the focal point of the struggle, Tahrir Square, in Cairo, after the
president's supporters mounted attacks on the crowd of protesters.

The
army made sporadic attempts to separate the two sides , swivelling the
gun turrets of their tanks in an effort to disperse the skirmishing
groups and pushing pro-Mubarak groups off a bridge over Tahrir Square,
but the troops did not intervene decisively to stop the violence.
Clashes with stones, petrol bombs and occasional gunshots continued
throughout the day.

Meanwhile, pro-government mobs tracked down
and beat Egyptian and international television crews and reporters,
forcing their vehicles off the roads and besieging their bureaux and
hotels.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said
correspondents from CNN, Associated Press, and al-Arabiya television
were among those attacked. The Qatar-based al-Jazeera, which has been
ordered to cease broadcasting from Egypt, said three of its reporters
had been arrested and one was missing. Dozens more journalists were
detained.

"The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of
eliminating witnesses to their actions," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the
regional coordinator of the Campaign to Protect Journalists, reflecting
fears that the crack-down presaged an all-out attack on the protesters.

The
US administration also denounced what it described as "systematic
targeting" of the media. The US state department spokesman, PJ Crowley,
said: "There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international
journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such
actions."

Egyptian and international human rights workers were
also detained when police raided a law centre in Cairo. Staff from
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were among those picked up
and the organisations said their whereabouts was unknown.

The
government combined the crack-down with political concession aimed at
drawing the sting from the revolt. The prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq,
acknowledged that the attacks on anti-government protesters "seemed to
have been organised", and he promised an investigation into who was
behind them.

Suleiman, the intelligence chief and newly-appointed
vice-president, said Mubarak's son, Gamal, would not stand for the
presidency this year, as had previously been expected. He added that he
had invited the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned throughout
Mubarak's 30-year reign, to join a dialogue on Egypt's future. But he
said the group had been "hesitant" to take part. The Muslim Brotherhood
and most of the secular opposition are demanding Mubarak's resignation
as a precondition for negotiations.

The vice-president repeatedly
insisted any political changes would take time and could not be rushed.
It would take 70 days to explore possible constitutional amendments,
Suleiman said.

However, a chorus of foreign leaders maintained calls for more immediate and profound reform.

David
Cameron issued a joint statement with the leaders of France, Germany,
Italy and Spain saying: "Only a quick and orderly transition to a
broad-based government will make it possible to overcome the challenges
Egypt is now facing. That transition process must start now."

The
European leaders were echoing Obama's call for change to begin at once,
but like him stopped short of calling directly for Mubarak's immediate
resignation.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, went further.
Speaking to journalists in London, he said: "President Mubarak's
announcement that he will stay until the end of his term and will not
run for re-election – I'm not sure that will satisfy the demands of his
people. If there is a need for change, it should happen now."

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