Monday, February 7, 2011

Egypt unrest: Protesters frustrate normalisation effort

Attempts to return Egypt to normality after two weeks of deadly anti-government protests have suffered a number of setbacks.
While banks have reopened, schools and the stock exchange remain closed, and protesters have prevented the re-opening of a major government building.
Section of a map showing Tahrir SquareThe Egyptian cabinet has announced a 15% rise in public-sector salaries and pensions, effective from April.
But the protesters continue to occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square.
They say they will only leave when President Hosni Mubarak stands down.
Some spent the night in or under army vehicles, to stop efforts to move them.
The Egyptian government is selling $2.5bn (£1.55bn) in short-term debt, after having cancelled auctions last week. It is seeking to revive an economy said to be losing at least $310m a day.
However, the Cairo stock exchange, which was originally supposed to re-open on Monday, will now not resume trading until Sunday 13 February. It has been closed since 27 January, when 70bn Egyptian pounds (£7.3bn; $12bn) was wiped off shares over two days.
The Egyptian cabinet - reshuffled on 31 January, when President Mubarak sacked several ministers - met in its new form for the first time on Monday afternoon and agreed to raise public-sector salaries and pensions by 15%.
Finance Minister Samir Radwan allocated about 6.5bn Egyptian pounds (£677m; $960m) to cover the increases for six million employees.
On Monday morning, crowds of protesters on Tahrir Square formed a human chain around the Mugamma - where people go to get official paperwork processed - to prevent it from opening as normal.
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the protesters were in a face-off with some soldiers, but as the army has been instructed not to use force, the situation was in deadlock - symptomatic of the whole country.
There is still no sign of Google executive Wael Ghonim, who disappeared on 28 January. On Sunday, a leading businessman who has been backing the protests, Naguib Sawiris of Orascom Telecom, said the authorities had told him Mr Ghonim would be released at 1600 local time (1400 GMT) on Monday.
Meanwhile, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned that the protests in Egypt and the Arab world could fuel illegal immigration to Europe.
"Instability in the region as such may also, in the longer-term perspective, have a negative impact on the economies, which might lead to illegal immigration in Europe," Mr Rasmussen told a news briefing in Brussels.
However, the situation did not pose a direct threat to Nato, he added.
'Start transition now'
As the crisis enters its third week, ordinary people are worried that prices for ordinary goods like bread have risen sharply, and show no signs of coming back down.
Meanwhile, Egyptian state TV has announced that the curfew is being relaxed. It will now run from 2000 to 0600 local time (1800-0400 GMT). However, the curfew has been widely flouted since it was introduced 10 days ago.
Talks on Sunday between the Egyptian government and opposition groups on tackling the country's political crisis failed to end the protests.
The government offered a series of concessions, but the opposition said they were not enough.
US President Obama has said Egypt will not "go back to what it was".
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, he said: "The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, and so what we've said is, you have to start a transition now."
Later on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to caution Egypt against a rush to replace its leader of 30 years.
"As I understand the constitution, if the president were to resign, he would be succeeded by the speaker of the house, and presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days," she said.
"Now the Egyptians are going to have to grapple with the reality of what they must do."
Mrs Clinton also praised Mr Mubarak for the compromises he had already put in place, including his pledge that neither he nor his son, Gamal, would run for office in the next elections.
It was widely believed that Gamal Mubarak was being groomed to take over the leadership from his father.
"They have to be viewed as an important set of steps that he has taken," the AFP news agency quoted Mrs Clinton as saying.
Meanwhile, one Egyptian security officer was injured when four rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a security forces barracks in Rafah on the Gaza Strip border, officials said.
It was not immediately clear who was behind Monday morning's attack, which Egyptian state television blamed on "extremist groups aiming to undermine security".

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