As Opposition Groups Meet, Egyptian Leader Calls for Normalcy


"We continue to be crystal clear that we oppose violence as a response to this crisis," the president said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "We are sending a strong and unequivocal message that attacks on reporters are unacceptable, attacks on human rights activists are unacceptable, attacks on peaceful protesters are unacceptable. The Egyptian government has a responsibility to protect the rights of its people. Those demonstrating also have a right do so peacefully."

A senior administration official told ABC News Friday that over the last week, Mubarak has not been sleeping, seems unstable, and goes back and forth between standing firm about staying and then saying that he is not appreciated and should just leave. Despite what Mubarak is saying, the official says he thinks that it will be, at the most, a matter of weeks before he hands over power.

The president said he has spoken twice to Mubarak since the crisis in Egypt began, and told him that "going back to the old ways is not going to work."

"I believe that President Mubarak cares about his country. He's proud, but he's also a patriot," Obama said. "What I suggested to him is he needs to consult with those who are around him in his government. He needs to listen to what's being voiced by the Egyptian people, and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly but that is meaningful and serious."

Senior administration sources tell ABC News that the president is trying to thread the needle -- not pushing Mubarak out too soon, before the constitution has been changed to allow democratic reforms, while making it clear that it's untenable for him to try to stay until the September presidential elections.

Mubarak has said he won't seek re-election in September, but will finish his term. Protesters are demanding his immediate removal.

"We are consulting widely within Egypt and with the international community to communicate our strong belief that a successful and orderly transition must be meaningful," Obama said.

This is the president's second direct comment on the situation in Egypt of the week. He last took to the cameras Tuesday to convey a similar message and tell President Mubarak that relinquishing power was the right decision, but the transition to a new government "must begin now."

White House officials say that a number of scenarios for a way forward in Egypt are being discussed, and they caution against reports where each new scenario "is anointed as the definitive way forward," a senior official says. "It's still a very fluid situation and lots of difference scenarios are being put forward by the Egyptian government, the opposition, us," and other nations.

Mubarak told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview Thursday that while he wants to step down, he fears his immediate departure would create chaos in the country.

"I don't care what people say about me," the 82-year-old said in the 30-minute-long interview. "Right now I care about my country, I care about Egypt."

The United States has strongly condemned the violence that has sprung up in Cairo's Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, over the last ten days, including harassment of journalists. White House Press Secretary Gibbs said they "speak volumes about the seriousness with which the government looks at an orderly transition."

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