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Egypt unrest and anti-Mubarak protesters seek new resolve

Egypt unrest and anti-Mubarak protesters seek new resolve

Protesters on Cairo's central Tahrir Square have called for a new push to oust Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, two weeks into their campaign.

Thousands of people still occupy the square but their lines have been gradually pushed back by the army, keen to get traffic moving again.

Talks have achieved little and Mr Mubarak appears unlikely to resign.

The government has announced concessions, including a 15% pay rise for six million public sector workers.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in Cairo, says that this is a sign that the government is seeking to consolidate its power.

US President Barack Obama has softened his criticism, and spoken positively about a process of dialogue.

"Obviously, Egypt has to negotiate a path, and I think they're making progress," Mr Obama said in Washington.

Feeling the strain

Opposition activists insist that the dialogue is going nowhere and that they continue to be harassed and arrested, our correspondent reports.

Talks between the opposition and the newly appointed vice-president have not produced very concrete results. Above all, they haven't met the protesters' key demand - that Mr Mubarak step down now.

Their occupation of Tahrir Square is being tolerated, with the army holding the ring. But if they just sit there chanting slogans while normal life resumes in the rest of the city, and the talks get nowhere, they risk sliding into irrelevance.

But to try to escalate the situation on the ground, in order to exert more pressure, would almost certainly risk colliding with the army.

This is the dilemma now facing the protesters, made all the more acute by their fear that if they stand down now, they may face retribution from a vengeful establishment.

Inspired by the success of a similar popular uprising in Tunisia, the protesters have sought to dislodge Mr Mubarak after 30 years in power.

They blame him for Egypt's economic problems and accuse his government of corruption and repression.

Nearly 300 people have been killed across Egypt in the unrest which began on 25 January, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers.

HRW says it has counted 297 victims of the days of violence, which saw fierce clashes with police, and pitched battles between protesters and Mubarak supporters.

It said it based its count on visits to seven hospitals in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. No comprehensive death toll has been given by the Egyptian government

Some economic activity has resumed, but authorities have delayed reopening the stock exchange until Sunday. On Friday it was estimated that the unrest had been costing the economy an average of $310m (£193m) a day.

The numbers of those on Tahrir Square swells each day, and drops back overnight but, after days of protests, those camping on the square are beginning to feel the strain.

Poor weather has muddied a grassy area used by protesters to pitch their tents.

Food is limited and scores of the remaining demonstrators have suffered injuries, with bandaged heads, arms in slings, and crutches a common sight.

'No traitor'

Omar Salim, who travelled to Cairo from the northern Sharqiya province and had spent the last four nights sleeping in the square, tried to put a brave face on the miserable conditions.

 The army is holding the line around Tahrir Square

"The hunger spurs us on," he told the Associated Press. "We're in this together, we are all one - that's what keeps us going."

Ahmed Mustafa, a 58-year-old plumber who said his 26-year-old son Islam had been shot dead in front of his eyes on Saturday, said his resolve to see the protest through to the end had only grown.

"This country has no freedom, no plurality of opinion," he said. "What kind of country is it in which a young man of 26 isn't able to marry, to make a family?"

Mr Mustafa said he and his two other adult sons - Karim, 27, and Khaled, 24 - were also ready to pay with their lives to oust the Mubarak government.

"They've come to die like him and I'm ready to go, too," he told AP.

Wael Ghonim, the Google marketing executive who was behind a Facebook page credited with sparking the demonstrations, was freed on Monday after being detained for 11 days.

He said he had not been ill-treated in custody but was shocked to be branded a traitor.

"Anyone with good intentions is the traitor because being evil is the norm," he told a TV channel.

"If I was a traitor, I would have stayed in my villa in the Emirates and made good money and said, like others, 'Let this country go to hell'. But we are not traitors."

Posted on Tuesday 8th February 2011

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