Hillary Clinton speaking to press.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday appealed for Egyptian authorities to respect the rights of their citizens amid a crackdown on swelling anti-government protests and heed demands for political and economic reform.
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Speaking as street demonstrations rocked Egypt's capital despite a curfew, Clinton urged calm on both sides and said the government must investigate and prosecute any allegations of brutality by security forces against protesters. She also called on Egypt to restore access to the Internet and social media sites that have been blocked.
"We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces," Clinton told reporters at the State Department. "At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully."
"We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communication," she said. "These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away."
Clinton said that reform "is absolutely critical to the well-being of Egypt" and urged the longtime US ally to "engage immediately" with opposition groups and others to enact broad economic, political and social reforms. She said the Obama administration had raised repeatedly with Egypt the "imperative for reform and greater openness."
"The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking to
contribute and have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives.
Leaders need to respond to these aspirations," Clinton said.
Other leaders have also expressed concern over developments in Egypt.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Friday called on Egyptian
leaders to "understand the grievances and deal with them in an
evolutionary way and by bringing necessary reforms," reported BBC.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also urged the Egyptian government to allow peaceful demonstrations.
Merkel told reporters that the stability of Egypt was "extremely important but not at the price of freedom of expression."
German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg also spoke at the forum, saying he was
worried about the risk of an "infectious momentum" of unrest spreading
in the Middle East, Reuters quoted him as saying.
When asked about the disruption of Internet and cell-phone data service in parts of Egypt, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also at Davos, said: "I believe that one of the ground principles of democracy should be to protect the freedom of speech of the people."
Ban said Middle East leaders should view the protests as a chance to address the "legitimate concerns" of their people and urged authorities to refrain from violence against demonstrators.
"All concerned people or leaders should ensure that the situation in that region, and particularly now in Egypt, does not and should not lead to further violence," Ban said.