President Obama: 'The Voices of the Egyptian People Must Be Heard'
Egypt's embattled president won't step down despite massive protests.
CAIRO, Egypt, Feb. 10, 2011— -- President Obama issued a stern written statement following Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to transfer many of his powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but not step down, a move that enraged crowds gathered in Tahrir Square.
"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient," said President Obama in the statement. "The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity."
Obama also pushed the Egyptian leadership to be clearer about its intentions and how it will address the demands of the Egyptian people.
"We therefore urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step-by-step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek. ... There must be restraint by all parties. Violence must be forsaken. It is imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality. The voices of the Egyptian people must be heard."
A crowd of hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square expecting to hear Mubarak say he was leaving office went silent as Mubarak appeared on television. But towards the end of the speech, when it became evident that the president wasn't resigning, the crowd erupted into a roar and began angrily chanting, "Leave now, leave now, leave now."
Thousands of protesters were planning to take to the streets once again on Friday to continue calling for Mubarak's ouster.
Shortly after Mubarak spoke, the supreme commander of the army sent a text message that went to nearly every cell phone in Egypt saying the military would have an important statement later tonight.
Suleiman, also speaking to the nation, told the country's youth to go home and to not listen to satellite television. But the mood among protesters was hardly that of retreat. Instead, angry crowds marched towards the Egyptian state TV building in downtown Cairo.
Mubarak's speech was defiant, but he also announced the formation of a committee that will study amendments to the Constitution, and said discussions were being held to lift the emergency law -- one of the main U.S. demands -- but only when the security situation permits.
Egypt's controversial emergency laws have been in place since 1967 and give the government far-reaching powers at the expense of judicial review and civil liberties.
In an address directed to the youth of Egypt, Mubarak said he was pained by the deaths that have occurred since protests began on Jan. 25.
"The blood of the martyrs and the injured will not go in vain," he said. "I will not hesitate to fiercely punish those who are responsible. I will hold those in charge who have violated the rights of our youth with the harshest punishment stipulated in the law."
The United Nations and Human Rights Watch estimates that 300 people have been killed in Egypt's protests.
The 82-year-old president appeared to rebuff the Obama administration's urgings that Mubarak heed protesters' demands, saying several times he won't "listen to any foreign interventions or dictations."
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