Obama close up 311.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The United States sharpened its criticism of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's teetering regime and expressed outrage over violence against protesters, declaring that its once-close partner should set a brisk course for new elections.
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US President Barack Obama began his remarks at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast with pointed hopes for better days ahead: "We pray that the violence in Egypt will end and the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized."
The administration's call for an immediate end to three decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt coincides with American hopes that reforms in Jordan and Yemen could stave off similar revolt. It represents something of a dual approach for the Obama administration, which has gradually shed its support for the 82-year-old Mubarak while looking to shore up its other Arab friends facing much of the same resentment if not yet imminent revolt.
Aboard Air Force One Thursday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs condemned the violence on the Egyptian streets. "The government of Egypt has to ensure that peaceful protests can take place," as he accompanied Obama on a trip to Pennsylvania.
Gibbs offered a strong denunciation of reports of "systematic targeting" of journalists in Egypt, saying those actions are "totally unacceptable."
"Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately," Gibbs said. "I think we need to be clear that the world is watching the actions that are taking place right now in Egypt."
In Egypt, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq acknowledged that the attack on anti-government protesters "seemed to have been organized." He promised an investigation into who was behind it.
Gibbs, in response, said he hoped that Shafiq's "acknowledgement that anybody that is involved in this will be held accountable is something that the government is serious about."
A day after Obama pressed Mubarak to loosen his three-decade grip on power immediately, clashes between protesters and pro-government supporters Wednesday further alienated Egypt's besieged government from its longtime patron, the United States.
The administration decried the fighting that started when several thousand Mubarak supporters, including some riding horses and camels and wielding whips, attacked anti-government protesters. Demonstrators dragged some of the attackers to the ground and beat them bloody, and the two sides rained stones and bottles down on each other.
On Thursday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley Crowley drew attention to the increasing attacks on foreign reporters covering the upheaval. "There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting," he said in a Twitter post. "We condemn such actions."
The administration's comments aim to keep the pressure on Mubarak amid fears that the Egyptian government was trying to outlast the protesters' calls for democratic change with cosmetic changes that don't meet the need for real reform. They echoed Obama's call for change to "begin now" after Mubarak announced he would not run for re-election.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanded in a telephone conversation with Egypt's new vice president, Omar Suleiman, that the government investigate the events and bring those responsible to account. She condemned the violence, Crowley reported.
"We don't know who unleashed these thugs on the streets of Cairo," he said, but called it a clear attempt to silence Egyptian voices of dissent. "The use of violence to intimidate the Egyptian people must stop."