US cranks up pressure on Mubarak

WASHINGTON, Lachlan Carmichael- The United States Wednesday cranked up pressure on Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak after he rebuffed calls to begin an immediate power transfer and his backers waged bloody street battles in Cairo.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Mubarak's newly-appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, to request a probe into brutal clashes in Cairo that left at least three dead and more than 600 injured.

US cranks up pressure on Mubarak
Clinton stressed to Suleiman that the political transition "has to start now," her spokesman Philip Crowley said.
And as officials slowly maneuvered away from Mubarak, there were also signs senior US policymakers were trying to keep their potentially pivotal relationship with Egypt's politically powerful military intact.
In another sign patience in Washington was wearing thin, veteran Republican senator John McCain emerged from talks with President Barack Obama, saying forcibly that it was time for Mubarak to resign for the good of Egypt.
Citing the Obama administration's official position, Crowley said: "We are encouraging the government to move farther and faster."
He said Egyptian government officials should start a national dialogue involving opposition figures, members of civil society, and the army -- a process that should ultimately lead to genuine democratic elections.
Mubarak appears to be digging his heels in after defying more than a week of massive protests calling for his immediate ouster, although he did concede on Tuesday that he would not run for re-election in September.
Mubarak supporters on Wednesday stormed the Cairo stronghold of anti-government protesters, amid a hail of Molotov cocktails, concrete blocks and stones, leaving a soldier dead, as well as hundreds of people injured.
"The longer that this (political deadlock) goes unresolved, the greater the danger of further violence," Crowley warned.
In her conversation with Suleiman, Clinton "strongly encouraged the government to investigate and hold those responsible for the violence accountable," Crowley said.
"We don't know who unleashed these thugs on the streets in Cairo... whoever they are, there needs to be accountability here. This was clearly an attempt to intimidate the protesters."
McCain held rare Oval Office talks with Obama, his conqueror in the 2008 presidential election, and made one of the first overt calls by a senior Washington figure for Mubarak to leave office immediately.
"The rapidly deteriorating situation in Egypt leads me to the conclusion that President Mubarak needs to step down and relinquish power," he said, urging the longtime US ally to transfer power to a caretaker administration.
McCain's statement was far more direct than the stance adopted by Obama, who has not yet called on Mubarak to step down immediately.
Sources said,however, that the president has made clear to the Egyptian leader that his days in power are numbered, and his plan to hang on until September elections may not be acceptable.
Earlier, the White House branded street clashes in Cairo as "outrageous" and "deplorable" but did not criticize the Egyptian leader personally in public.
Asked whether Mubarak should now be labeled a dictator, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs opted not to personally rebuke the Arab strongman.
The foreign ministry in Cairo provided a swift overnight rebuttal to the US president's calls for a swift transfer of power, made after what officials termed a "frank" telephone conversation with Mubarak.
"What foreign parties are saying about 'a period of transition beginning immediately' in Egypt is rejected, as such calls seek to inflame the internal situation in Egypt," said spokesman Hossam Zaki.
With many analysts seeing the role of Egypt's army as crucial in eventually resolving the crisis, top US officials sought to keep lines of communication open.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates conferred with his Egyptian counterpart on Wednesday, his third conversation in a week with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawim, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also issued a statement of support for the Egyptian military.
Leading Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei sought to ease Western fears that a post-Mubarak Egypt could turn against Israel and the United States.
"The hype that once Egypt becomes a democracy, it will become hostile to the US and hostile to Israel... these are the two hypes, and are fictions," ElBaradei told CBS News.

Thursday, February 3rd 2011
Lachlan Carmichael

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