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Egypt protesters unmoved by talks

Egypt protesters unmoved by talks

Talks between the Egyptian government and opposition groups on tackling the country's political crisis have failed to end protests in central Cairo.

Crowds of protesters, who have occupied the city's Tahrir Square for two weeks, say they will only leave when President Hosni Mubarak stands down.

The government offered a series of concessions at Sunday's talks, but the opposition said they were not enough.

US President Obama has said Egypt will not "go back to what it was".

Opposition groups met members of the government on Sunday to discuss how to resolve the stand-off which has paralysed the country and left some 300 people dead.

Vice-President Omar Suleiman hosted the talks. Six groups were represented, including a coalition of youth organisations, a group of "wise men" and the banned Muslim Brotherhood in its first ever meeting with the government.

For the moment the talks don't seem to be going anywhere.

There is a stalemate and there are two kinds of pillars to this: one of President Mubarak not going anywhere, and the other of the protesters not going anywhere.

There is an illusion growing that normal life is returning to Cairo. I can tell you it's not very normal.

Yes, shops and banks are reopening to a limited extent, but I walked along one of the main thoroughfares, the Corniche el Nil, and outside the information ministry there are 18 pieces of heavy armour, including battle tanks. This is not a city that's going back to normal life any time soon.

Egyptian state TV said the participants had agreed to form a joint committee of judicial and political figures tasked with suggesting constitutional amendments.

But opposition leaders said they were sceptical of the government's motives and that the measures did not go far enough.

The Muslim Brotherhood said it would only take part in future talks if the government made progress on meeting its demands that Mr Mubarak resign, parliament be dissolved, emergency laws lifted and all political prisoners released.

Senior Brotherhood figure Essam el-Erian told reporters the authorities had responded to some of the demands but only in "a superficial way."

Meanwhile, one Egyptian security officer was injured when four rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a security forces barracks in Rafah on the Gaza Strip border, officials said. It was not immediately clear who was behind Monday morning's attack.

'Grapple with reality'

Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei - who was not at the talks but sent a representative to meet Vice-President Suleiman separately - described the process as "opaque".

He said he was proposing a one-year transitional period where Egypt would be run by a three-member presidential council as it prepared for elections.

President Mubarak has so far refused to resign, saying that to do so would cause chaos. He has instead said he will not stand for re-election in September.

But US President Barack Obama has insisted that an "orderly transition" must begin immediately.

In an interview with Fox news on Sunday, he said: "The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, and so what we've said is, you have to start a transition now."

He added that the US could not dictate to Mr Mubarak what he should do, but that it could advise him "the time is now for you to start making a change in that country".

Later on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to caution Egypt against a rush to replace its leader of 30 years.

"As I understand the constitution, if the president were to resign, he would be succeeded by the speaker of the house, and presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days," she said.

"Now the Egyptians are going to have to grapple with the reality of what they must do."

Mrs Clinton also praised Mr Mubarak for the compromises he had already put in place, including his pledge that neither he nor his son, Gamal, would run for office in the next elections.

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Muslim Brotherhood

  • Egypt's oldest and largest Islamist organisation
  • Founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928
  • Has influenced Islamist movements worldwide
  • Mixes political activism with charity work
  • Banned from open political activity
  • Rejects use of violence and supports democratic principles
  • Wants to create a state governed by Islamic law
  • Slogan: "Islam is the Solution"

It was widely believed that Gamal Mubarak was being groomed to take over the leadership from his father.

"They have to be viewed as an important set of steps that he has taken," the AFP news agency quoted Mrs Clinton as saying.

Tens of thousands again joined demonstrations in Cairo and other cities on Sunday, although the authorities have been attempting to restore a sense of normality to the capital.

The government is seeking to revive an economy said to be losing at least $310m (£192m) a day.

Many shops, factories and the stock exchange have been closed, and basic goods have been running short.

On Sunday banks in Cairo opened for the first time in a week, drawing long queues as people waited to withdraw money.

Correspondents say many Egyptians have been wondering how quickly daily life will return to normal regardless of the outcome of the struggle for power.

Posted on Monday 7th February 2011

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