Ex-minister, state TV chief held in Egyptian probe

Arrests are the first move by the country's ruling army against former Mubarak officials; Yemen orders police to protect protesters.

Saleh press conference 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Saleh press conference 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Authorities in Egypt on Thursday arrested the country’s former information minister and the chairman of state TV and radio on corruption allegations, the latest moves by the country’s ruling military against senior officials of Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime, security officials said.
The officials also mentioned two former cabinet ministers and a one-time top official of Mubarak’s political party, and said all would face trial.
Thursday’s arrests of Anas al-Fiqqi, the ex-information minister, and Osama el-Sheikh, the state TV boss, were widely expected. Al-Fiqqi was placed under house arrest earlier this month and el-Sheikh was banned from traveling abroad Wednesday – steps that often precede a criminal investigation or a trial.
Al-Fiqqi was a confidant of Mubarak and his powerful son Gamal. Under al-Fiqqi’s and el- Sheikh’s stewardship, state TV persistently discredited the young organizers of the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to hand power to the military after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.
The day before, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit confirmed that there had been an attempted assassination against Omar Suleiman, who briefly served as vice president during Mubarak’s last days.
Aboul Gheit said in an interview with Egyptian television that the assassination attempt occurred a few weeks ago when Suleiman’s car came under fire by an approaching ambulance.
One of Suleiman’s bodyguards was killed in the gunfight.
In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered his forces to offer “full protection” to anti-regime protesters and loyalists alike, after 15 people died in an uprising against his rule. Thursday’s move came as 28 members of parliament from his General People’s Congress (GPC) urged him to implement a 10-point reform plan, and the number of lawmakers who resigned from the party rose to 11.
Saleh instructed “all security services to thwart all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between pro- and anti-government protesters,” read a statement published by the state news agency Saba.
It demanded that security services grant “full protection” to all demonstrators and urged protesters to “remain vigilant” against infiltrators seeking to ignite violence.
Two anti-government protesters were killed on Wednesday when supporters of Saleh opened fire on a sit-in in Sanaa, bringing to at least 15 the number of deaths in a crackdown on the revolt since February 16.
Elsewhere, a spokeswoman for the government of Bahrain said a prominent opposition leader would not be arrested if he returned to the country, but it remained unclear whether he was free to travel.
The spokeswoman said authorities had no plans to take Hassan Meshaima into custody if he returned from self-exile.
But security officials in Lebanon said they had confiscated Meshaima’s passport on an Interpol warrant. It is unclear whether Bahrain will take steps to lift it.
Meshaima arrived in Beirut on Tuesday en route to Bahrain, where protests by the Shi’ite majority against the Gulf kingdom’s Sunni rulers broke out last week.
Meshaima, head of a Shi’ite group known as Haq, is considered more hard-line than the main Shi’ite political bloc that has taken a lead among the protesters.
The opposition currently appears divided on whether to demand an end to the Sunni monarchy or offer a chance to remain in exchange for granting powers to the elected parliament.
The spokeswoman said the government had a declared Friday a day of mourning for seven demonstrators killed in clashes with security forces.
In neighboring Saudi Arabia, intellectuals asked the kingdom’s monarch to adopt far-reaching political and social reforms.
They said in a statement that Arab rulers should derive a lesson from the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and listen to the voice of disenchanted young people. The group includes renowned Islamic scholars, a female academic, a poet and a former diplomat.
The call for change came after Saudi Arabia’s 86-year-old King Abdullah announced an unprecedented economic aid package, including interest-free home loans. The package, estimated at 135 billion Saudi riyals ($36 billion), was seen as an attempt to get ahead of potential unrest.