Egypt govt takes initiative to calm popular revolt


CAIRO – Egypt’s embattled government on Thursday announced steps aimed at defusing a bloody revolt, as protesters battled pro-regime militants for control of Cairo’s Tahrir Square and spurned an offer to talk. As fighting between protesters and government loyalists raged into a second night, with an unidentified foreigner beaten to death in the square and a hypermarket torched in a Cairo suburb, a number of live feeds by foreign television channels had gone dead – apparently over security concerns.
Vice President Omar Suleiman in a lengthy address on the state television urged protesters to leave Tahrir Square, slamming their demands for Mubarak’s ouster as a “call for chaos” and saying their demands had been met. “End your sit-in. Your demands have been answered,” Suleiman said, adding that violence against protesters in the square could have been the result of a conspiracy.
The Health Ministry said five people were killed and at least 836 hurt, while an AFP tally puts the death toll at nine, including the foreigner. “We will look into (the violence), into the fact it was a conspiracy,” Suleiman said, adding that it could have been instigated by some “with foreign agendas, the Muslim Brotherhood, certain parties or businessmen”.
He added that the banned Muslim Brotherhood had been invited to join talks between the government and opposition aimed at ending the protests. Suleiman had earlier called on security authorities to release detained youths “not involved in criminal acts”. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq earlier apologised for the deadly violence. The new premier also said he was “ready to go to Tahrir Square to talk to the protesters” in a reversal of the government’s stance since protests broke out on January 25.
Meanwhile, the public prosecutor said officials, including widely hated former interior minister Habib al-Adly, have been banned from travelling and their accounts frozen pending investigation. According to UN estimates, more than 300 people have died since the unrest broke out on January 25 and close to 4,000 injured. On the economic front, the Fitch agency lowered Egypt’s debt ratings by one notch, following the lead of Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, due to the intensified violence.
The US State Department issued a stark travel warning for citizens in Egypt, urging those who want to leave to “immediately” to head for the airport, while the British government said it was evacuating diplomatic family members and non-essential embassy staff. And up to 600 UN agency employees and their families were being airlifted to Cyprus on Thursday, with only essential staff staying on, a UN spokesman said.