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Mubarak: I'd resign, but Egypt would descend into chaos
By OREN KESSLER, MELANIE LIDMAN IN CAIRO AND AP
02/04/2011
Pitched battles take place for 2nd day; protesters pledge to oust Mubarak; Egyptian leader vows to ‘die on the soil of Egypt.’
 
Protesters have pledged to intensify their battle to unseat Hosni Mubarak by Friday, after opponents and supporters of the Egyptian president clashed in a second straight day of rock-throwing battles at a central Cairo square and new forms of lawlessness spread throughout the battered city.

Mubarak struck a defiant tone Thursday, telling ABC News’s Christiane Amanpour he would “never run away” and would “die on the soil of Egypt.”

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The embattled president said in an interview Thursday that he was ready to leave office, but could not, for fear his country would sink deeper into chaos.

“I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go,” Mubarak said in an interview at the presidential palace.

Amanpour said Mubarak had told her he was troubled by the deadly violence between anti- and pro-government groups in Tahrir Square and that the government was not responsible for it. The president blamed the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood for the violence and said he did not intend to have his son Gamal assume the presidency after him.

Mubarak said that in a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama earlier this week, he had told his American counterpart, “You don’t understand the Egyptian culture,” and asked, “What would happen if I step down now?” Looting and arson erupted throughout the capital Thursday, as gangs of thugs supporting Mubarak attacked reporters, foreigners and rights workers while the army rounded up foreign journalists. The government seemed to be advancing a narrative whereby foreigners had been fueling the turmoil and supporting the tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets.

Pro-government mobs beat foreign journalists with sticks on the streets outside downtown Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests. Dozens of journalists, including ones from The Washington Post and The New York Times, were reported detained by security forces. One Greek print journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver, and a photographer was punched in the face by attackers who smashed some of his equipment.

The Arabic news network Al-Arabiya pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists, and Al- Jazeera said two of its correspondents had been attacked.

The director of CyberDissidents.org – an organization that describes itself as “supporting human liberty by promoting the voices of online dissidents” – told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the much-touted stability of the Mubarak regime was little more than a facade.

“There is nothing stable about an impoverished, illiterate, repressive, dysfunctional dictatorship,” David Keyes wrote in an e-mail from New York. “No one need apologize for pressuring a brutal tyrant who imprisons bloggers, arrests opposition figures and stifles free speech.”

Vice President Omar Suleiman blamed outside actors for fanning the flames of unrest.

“When there are demonstrations of this size, there will be foreigners who come and take advantage, and they have an agenda to raise the energy of the protesters,” he said in an interview on state television.

Suleiman promised that the 82- year-old Mubarak’s son Gamal would not run to succeed his father in presidential elections in September, and offered to hold negotiations on the country’s future even with the regime’s biggest domestic enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. He said the Brotherhood remained “hesitant,” but underlined that it was a “valuable opportunity” for the fundamentalist movement.

Suleiman said the police had “lost some of its capabilities” and that the army – the main force on the streets of the capital – was struggling to fill the void.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq acknowledged that the attack “seemed to have been organized” and said elements had infiltrated what had begun as a demonstration against the protesters to turn it violent. But he said he did not know who had done so, promising an investigation.

“I offer my apology for everything that happened yesterday, because it’s neither logical nor rational,” Shafiq said on state television. “Everything that happened yesterday will be investigated so everyone knows who was behind it.”

Shafiq, a former air force general appointed by Mubarak over the weekend, defended Mubarak’s announcement Tuesday that he would serve out the rest of his term.

“Would it be dignified for a nation for its president to leave immediately?” Shafiq said. “There are ethics that must be observed.”

Human rights activists were also targeted. Military police stormed the offices of an Egyptian rights group as activists were meeting and arrested at least 30, including one from the Londonbased Amnesty International and another from the New York-based Human Rights Watch, the groups said.

Lawlessness that had largely eased since the weekend flared anew. A fire raged in a major supermarket outside Sheikh Zayed, a suburb of the capital, and looters were ransacking the building. A residential building neighboring a five-star hotel on the Nile River corniche was also ablaze, blocks away from Tahrir.

Other fires erupted in the Cairo district of Shubra, north of the center, security officials said.

On Thursday evening, the UKbased mobile company Vodafone said it had been forced to send mass pro-government text messages during the protests.

The social networking site Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone’s Egyptian customers showing text messages sent over the course of the demonstrations.

A text message received Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt appealed to the country’s “honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honor.” Another urged Egyptians to attend a pro-Mubarak rally in Cairo on Wednesday.

The first was marked as coming from “Vodafone.” The other was signed: “Egypt Lovers.”

Meanwhile, a sense of victory ran through the protesters Thursday after they succeeded in keeping their hold on the square and pushing back their attackers.

“Thank God, we managed to protect the whole area,” said Abdul Rahman, a taxi driver who was among thousands who stayed in the square through the night, hunkered down against the thousands besieging the entrances.

“We prevented the pro- Mubarak people from storming the streets leading to the square,” he said. He refused to give his full name.

Many dismissed the government concessions, which would have been stunning only a month ago, and said they wanted nothing less than for Mubarak to go now.

“We have gone beyond these demands a long time ago,” said Waheed Hamad, a 40-year-old schoolteacher among the protesters.

“What we need is something bigger. And the road is still long.” He said the attacks on protests would only make them grow. “Blood is the fuel of the revolution,” he declared.

At least eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the fighting in and around Tahrir.

Bands of Mubarak supporters moved through side streets around Tahrir, trading stonethrowing volleys with the protesters and attacking cars to stop supplies from reaching the protest camp. One band stopped a car, ripped open the trunk and found boxes of juice, water and food, which they took before forcing the driver to flee.

As evening fell, the tanks in Tahrir Square started to move for the first time, creating a barrier on one of the main roads to the plaza. The tanks were in place for so long that many had accumulated piles of trash underneath.

They moved into position as hundreds of men completed evening prayers, kneeling in perfect stillness as the giant machines rolled past.
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