Egypt's prime minister apologizes and vows probe into violence

Military leaves, clashes heat up again

Cairo, Egypt, Feb 3 (KATAKAMI.COM / CNN) — Egypt’s new prime minister apologized repeatedly Thursday for the previous day’s “catastrophe” in Cairo, blaming infiltrators and a “complete disappearance” of police for the human toll.

Interior Minister Habib Adli, whose office oversees Egypt’s police forces, was among several former officials of President Hosni Mubarak’s government whose assets were frozen, state-run television said. The officials have been banned from traveling outside the country.

The travel ban will remain in effect “until national security is restored and the authorities and monitoring bodies have undergone their investigations,” Nile TV said.

Ahmed Shafiq, appointed prime minister last Saturday, pledged a thorough investigation into Wednesday’s violence in Tahrir Square, the downtown Cairo plaza where the uprising has unfolded with force.

“This group got in and some clashes happened,” he said, adding that he would look into whether the violence was part of an organized attempt to disband the opposition.

Even as he spoke, foes and supporters of Mubarak’s government continued clashing in Tahrir Square. Pro-Mubarak crowds were smaller Thursday but tension still ran high as people hurled rocks and flashbangs at each other.

The two sides faced off all through the night and earlier Thursday, heavy gunfire reverberated in central Cairo. The military maneuvered to separate the two sides but in the afternoon, in parts of the square, the soldiers were nowhere to be seen.

Scores of bandaged demonstrators remained in the square. At least five people were killed and 836 injured, including 200 within one hour Thursday morning, Egypt’s health minister said on Nile TV.

In Washington, President Barack Obama addressed the Egyptian crisis, now in its 10th day, at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world,” he said.

Obama’s comments came after the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a statement urging a “rapid and peaceful transition” and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Mubarak to act “as quickly as possible” on that transition.

Mubarak announced last week that he would not run again in September elections. His newly appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak’s son, Gamal — who was being groomed as his successor — will also not seek the post.

But many of the protesters are demanding an immediate end to Mubarak’s rule.

Shafiq appealed to his compatriots, especially Egypt’s youth, to show patience as the government’s leadership goes through the transitional period.

“It has great meaning not to hurt each other, hurt our reputation,” he said. “Do they want what happened in Tunisia to happen here?” Shafiq said, referring to the revolt in Tunisia that ousted the nation’s longtime strongman and served as inspiration for other nations in the region that have seen similar demonstrations.

Shafiq said he and newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman were to meet with the opposition — including protesters in Tahrir Square. He said no one would be excluded from the national dialog, including the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed Islamist umbrella group.

But spokesman Essam El-Erian, said the Muslim Brotherhood will not participate in talks with the regime.

“We refuse to sit with him,” El-Erian said Thursday, referring to Suleiman.

Other key opposition groups have also rejected meeting invitations, including the secular liberal Wafd Party and the Al-Ghad party, led by former presidential candidate Ayman Nour.

Journalists covering the crisis have also become targets — beaten, bloodied, harassed and detained by men, most all in some way aligned with Mubarak. Numerous news outlets — including the BBC, ABC News and CNN — reported members of their staffs had been attacked, most on the streets of Cairo.

In several cases, news personnel were accused of being “foreign spies,” seized, whisked away, and often assaulted. A spokesman for the United States blasted forces in Egypt who have harassed, detained and beaten journalists.

“There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday on Twitter. “We condemn such actions.”
Early Thursday, sustained fire from automatic weapons, including from what sounded like a heavy machine gun, echoed around the square.

Anti-government demonstrators hunkered down behind makeshift barricades and small fires burned in the square, with some spreading to trees and walls. Chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails flew as the crisis escalated.

In the nation’s second-largest city of Alexandria, however, some signs of normalcy could be seen Thursday as trams returned to the streets for the first time in days.

A group of fishermen said they wanted life to get back to normal and one Mubarak supporter said the protests in Cairo were humiliating.

Mubarak loyalists, who had been largely silent since the unrest began, came out in full force Wednesday — in one case wielding whips and thundering through the crowd on horses and camels.

“What you are seeing is the demonstration of the real Egyptian people who are trying to take back their country, trying to take back their street,” said businessman Khaled Ahmed, who described himself as “pro-Egyptian.”

But some observers said the pro-Mubarak push Wednesday was likely orchestrated by a regime bent on breaking up peaceful demonstrations.

“These are tactics that are well-known in Egypt,” Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN’s John King.

It was unclear whether confrontations were being repeated elsewhere. Other Cairo neighborhoods were calm, and rallies in Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria, were largely peaceful.

Cairo resident Waleed Tawfik noted that Tahrir Square is the size of a football stadium, and the events there are not representative of peaceful protests elsewhere.

“There are 29 governors in Egypt,” Tawfik said. “I don’t understand why the whole international media is focused on a geographic area around about a half-kilometer by a half-kilometer.”

He professed neutrality on Mubarak, but said the man who has ruled Egypt for three decades should be allowed to finish his term.

“I’d be worried if the president packed up and left at the request of 60,000 people,” Tawfik said. “Eighty-four million is a larger voice … (to) reconstruct the government and reshuffle ministers won’t happen over day and night.”

(*)

British Foreign Secretary comments on violence in Egypt

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague

Foreign Secretary William Hague said that real and visible change, needs to take place, and needs to begin now.

Feb 3 (KATAKAMI / FCO.GOV.UK) — Speaking today on BBC Radio 4 the Foreign Secretary said:

“We want a stable and democratic country in Egypt, that’s what’s in the national interest of the United Kingdom. An orderly transition to a broadly based Government of free and fair elections, to real and visible change, needs to take place, and it needs to begin now so that they can work out those differences for themselves in a sovereign nation, having their arguments with each other but in a peaceful way. We continue to place the pressure on them to get on with that as rapidly as possible.”

On reports that the regime sponsored violence against protestors the Foreign Secretary said:

“I don’t have any evidence either way, but if it turns out that the regime in Egypt has in any way sponsored violence against peaceful protest that would be totally unacceptable. In the last hour I’ve spoken to the President’s son, Gamal Mubarak, on the telephone and said that if it turned out that there was state sponsored violence here that would be catastrophic for Egypt and for those who are in Government now.”

“We’ll continue to work with our partners in the EU and with the United States to try to push things in the right direction.”

(*)

 

Mahmoud Abbas says not to run for re-election

File : Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

RAMALLAH, Feb. 2 (KATAKAMI.COM /Xinhua) — Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to run in any upcoming presidential elections, a senior Palestinian official said.

The Palestinian leadership is seriously studying to prepare for holding new parliamentary and presidential elections, the official said on condition of anonymity.

“President Abbas is expected to call for holding the elections soon, but he hasn’t setup a date yet,” the official said, in the aftermath of a meeting of Abbas Fatah movement’s revolutionary council held in Ramallah.

The official quoted Abbas as saying during the meeting that “we will call for presidential and legislative elections soon and I won’t run for another presidential term.”

The Islamic Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, and defeated Fatah movement in the 2006 elections, opposes holding new elections before reaching a reconciliation agreement and ending the current split.

Hamas had seized control of the Gaza Strip by force since it routed secular Abbas security forces in June 2007.

However, the official said that the elections would be held, despite Hamas’ opposition.

The official quoted Abbas as saying that “the judge will be the polls as long as achieving a reconciliation agreement is obstructed. The only solution is to hold the elections and any party can come and observe holding it.”

Meanwhile, the official revealed that Abbas is also intending to reshuffle the current government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  (*)

Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh to be Appointed Acting IDF Chief of Staff

Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh

Feb 2 (KATAKAMI.COM) — The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense spoke with Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant on Tuesday night (Feb. 1) about their appreciation for him as a commander and IDF combatant based on whose strong capabilities and accomplishments was chosen to be the IDF Chief of Staff. In light of a recent decision made by the government’s legal advisor, however, as well its repercussions, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense reached the conclusion that there was no option left but to cancel Maj. Gen. Galant’s appointment and begin the process of finding the next Chief of Staff again.

Minister of Defense Barak stated the decision to appoint the Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh as acting Chief of Staff will be made on Thursday, Maj. Gen. Naveh serving for a period of up to sixty days. Within this time the process of choosing a new Chief of Staff will be completed and he will begin his role.

Appointing Maj. Gen. Naveh to acting Chief of Staff was decided upon at the suggestion of the government’s legal advisor.

Source : IDF Website

Chinese people toast for a better Year of the Rabbit

A girl displays "bunny dolls" at the Spring Festival cultural temple fair held in Ditan Park, Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 2, 2011. Variety of goods related to bunny are well received by visitors at temple fairs kicked off in Beijing on Wednesday, the Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve. (Xinhua/Chen Xiaogen)

BEIJING, Feb. 2 (KATAKAMI.COM / Xinhua) — From dumplings in the north and rice cakes in the south, people across China Wednesday overloaded their tables with holiday foods, cheering for the Spring Festival family reunion and praying for a better life in the coming Year of Rabbit.

In a remote village in Guizhou Province, villagers were sharing millet cakes and preserved pork as sunshine dispelled cold and sleet, which have plagued China’s southwest for a month.

“This year’s Spring Festival is especially cheerful, since our dream of a new home has come true,” said villager Zhang Jiuyun.

Zhang’s home was severely damaged in the snow and sleet disaster, but with the help of local villagers and funds from the government, Zhang built a larger house without spending much money.

The Spring Festival is also an important occasion for migrant workers to enjoy family reunions after toiling for higher incomes in wealthy coastal provinces for a year.

“I’ve brought back red wine and cookies imported from Italy as gifts for my parents,” said Ding Zhenghe, a Shenzhen-based factory owner who has worked his way up from a migrant worker.

But Ding said, after years in the modern city, he still yearns for the the food cooked by his mother in the rural home.

The Spring Festival, which falls on Thursday, also marks the start of the Year of the Rabbit. It is a time for family dinners, gift giving and fireworks.

Nangkun Tashi, a villager in the earthquake-hit Yushu, northwest China’s Qinghai Province, celebrated the first Lunar New Year after the disaster with traditional Tibetan food, such as mutton and butter tea.

A 7.1-magnitude earthquake jolted Yushu in April 2010, killing about 2,200 people and leaving Tashi’s village in ruins.

Tashi’s family narrowly survived the quake, and have recently moved into a new home, which was provided by the local government two months before.

In Zhouqu County, Gansu Province, 990 tons of grains have been delivered to the 473 survivors, who now lived in temporary housing after a massive landslide leveled the county, leaving over 1,500 people dead in August.

“We are able to hold a celebration, even though we’ve lost everything in the landslide,” said local resident Yao Shelin.

“We’ve received flour, cooking oil, and even the wok is a donation,” said Yao.  (*)

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez celebrates 12 years in power

 

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) greets children in a classroom during a broadcast of a TV show to commemorate his 12th anniversary as president, in Caracas February 2, 2011. Chavez was inaugurated as President of Venezuela on February 2, 1999. REUTERS/Ho-Miraflores Palace

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has marked his 12th anniversary of coming to power by urging supporters topress ahead with his socialist revolution.

Feb 2 (KATAKAMI.COM / BBC) — Mr Chavez asked Venezuelans to forgive any “mistakes” he had made in office.

But he said his government had lived up to the hope his first election victory inspired, highlighting achievements in education and poverty reduction.

Mr Chavez, 56, added that he was confident of winning another six-year term in elections in 2012.

He said the electoral campaign had “already begun”, and was going to be “a tough one and a good one”.

He said the challenges ahead included providing every Venezuelan with a home following last year’s devastating floods, and tackling high levels of violent crime.

CriticismVenezuela’s opposition has yet to select a candidate to stand against Mr Chavez in 2012.

But it has grown in confidence after winning around half of the votes in congressional elections last September.

The opposition accuse Mr Chavez of squandering Venezuela’s oil wealth and mishandling the economy, causing a long recession and high inflation.

They also say he has failed to control soaring rates of violent crime in Venezuela, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

A constitutional reform passed in 2009 allows Mr Chavez to stand for reelection indefinitely.

But the left-wing leader once again dismissed critics who say he is turning Venezuela into a dictatorship.

“”I have read a lot of news stories saying that Chavez has been in power 12 years and is trying to cling to power,” he said in a televised speech to mark the anniversary.

“But let’s keep something in mind. There have been elections here. We have won them, over and over, with complete transparency.”

The anniversary was also marked by supporters of Mr Chavez in Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina and other countries in the Americas and Europe.  (*)

Jordan's New PM Begins Talks on Forming Cabinet

Jordan's prime minister-designate Marouf al-Bakhit delivers a speech in Amman, Jordan (file photo)

Feb 2 (KATAKAMI.COM / VOA) — Jordan’s prime minister-designate began consultations on forming a new government Wednesday, a day after being appointed by King Abdullah.

Marouf al-Bakhit has met with Senate President Taher Masri. Jordan’s Petra news agency says the two men discussed a need for government reforms. The news agency says Mr. Bakhit pledged to enact reforms as soon as possible.

King Abdullah dismissed his government on Tuesday following weeks of public protests for political change. Demonstrators blamed the government for rising fuel and food prices as well as slow political reforms. The protests have been similar to those that led to last month’s ouster of Tunisia’s president.

A palace statement on Tuesday said King Abdullah was tasking the new Cabinet with taking “practical and swift” steps to launch what it called “true political reforms.”  (*)

British PM David Cameron and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemn Egypt violence

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) greets U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he arrives at number 10 Downing Street, in London February 2, 2011.

London, Feb 2 (KATAKAMI / NUMBER 10 GOV.UK) — Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Downing Street for bilateral talks.

Speaking to journalists outside Number 10, the Prime Minister and the Secretary General condemned the violence taking place in Egypt today and urged restraint.

The PM said it would be “completely and utterly unacceptable” if the Egyptian authorities were found to be behind the violence. He called for the transition to a broader and more democratic government “to be accelerated and happen quickly”.

He said:

“These are despicable scenes that we’re seeing and they should not be repeated.  They underline the need for political reform and, frankly, for that political reform to be accelerated and to happen quickly.

“We need to see a clear road map for that political reform so that people in Egypt can have confidence that their aspirations for a more democratic future with greater rights is met, and that change needs to start happening now and the violence needs to stop.”

Mr Ban said he was “deeply concerned” about the violence and that the danger of instability across the Middle East should not be understimated. He called for all sides in the dispute to engage in an “orderly and peaceful transition”.

Clashes have taken place thoughout the day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square between anti-government protesters and apparent supporters of the incumbent President Mubarak.

Last night President Mubarak vowed to oversee a transition to a broader-based government and not to stand in September’s elections following several days of demonstrations. (*)

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