Obama to Mubarak: Take 'concrete steps' on rights

US president says US will "continue to stand up for rights of Egyptian people"; Gibbs warns Egypt must address "legitimate grievances."

US President Barak Obama 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
US President Barak Obama 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — Stepping up pressure on a stalwart but flawed Middle Eastern ally, US President Barack Obama said Friday night he had personally told Egypt's  long-time leader to take "concrete steps" to expand rights inside the Arab nation and refrain from violence against protesters flooding through the streets of Cairo and elsewhere.
"Surely, there will be difficult days to come, but the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful," Obama said.
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The conversation followed closely on a televised speech in which Mubarak, in Cairo, announced he was sacking his government to form a new one that would accelerate reforms. At the same time, he said, violence by protesters would not be tolerated.
Earlier, the White House said that the "legitimate grievances" of the Egyptian people must be addressed immediately by the Egyptian government and violence is not the right response.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that "we're monitoring a very fluid situation."
Gibbs said it was time for reform to come to Egypt. He reiterated calls for restraint and said that the Pentagon has been in direct contact with the Egyptian military to caution restraint.
The US is treading carefully amid the threat to a stalwart US ally in the Arab world considered a linchpin for American efforts to forge Middle East peace and tamp down Islamic extremism.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in EgyptClick here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Earlier Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also 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.
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.