Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Cairo Protesters Converge in Message Aimed at Defiant Mubarak

Posted by vmsalama on February 9, 2011

By Mariam Fam, Vivian Salama and Ahmed A Namatalla

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO – Egyptians converged on the presidential palace and Tahrir Square in Cairo vowing to topple President Hosni Mubarak after he yesterday defied calls for his resignation for the second time this month.

Military helicopters flew over the palace before dusk, in the suburb of Heliopolis, after state television said the presidency would issue an urgent message “soon.” Earlier, the army beefed up its deployment downtown as tens of thousands of demonstrators poured out of Friday prayers and into the square downtown, swelling the ranks of those who camped there overnight. State television said Mubarak had left the capital.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

With the army today reiterating its support for Mubarak, attention is shifting to how far it will go as the protests gather momentum. The violence has already claimed more than 300 lives, Human Rights Watch says, and has sparked concern that further unrest will grip a region that holds more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. The protests were inspired by the revolt that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

“The nightmare of a coup is very bad for everybody, for the young people, for the economy, and that’s the scenario we would like to avoid,” Finance Minister Samir Radwan said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The military is highly disciplined, they have taken a decision not to fire at the young people, but of course this stalemate cannot continue forever.”

Emergency Law

A group of demonstrators gathered near the presidential palace and protests were also under way in the cities of Suez and Alexandria. Mubarak and his family left Cairo and arrived in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, Al Arabiya television reported today.

The Supreme Military Council said today it will guarantee the implementation of the measures announced late yesterday in Mubarak’s televised speech, including constitutional changes and an eventual end to an emergency law that has marked his 30-year rule. In a sign the government may offer further concessions, the head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, said today in an interview that an early presidential election may be possible.

Mubarak, 82, reiterated his intention to stay in office until the vote in September, while handing day-to-day powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman in a bid to placate opponents. Protesters erupted in a roar of disapproval as they listened to Mubarak’s evening address in Tahrir Square.

“In Cairo alone today it will be millions,” demonstrator Abdel Rahman Sabry, a 24-year-old engineering student, said in an interview. “Yesterday’s speech has really angered people. We tell him to go, he tells us: ‘I won’t go, you love me.’ Either he is crazy or we are crazy.”

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

‘Not Worthy’

As Muslims gathered in a mosque near Tahrir Square, the imam leading today’s prayers told them over a loudspeaker, “You are bringing down a corrupt regime that is not worthy of ruling you.”

The Supreme Military Council gathered yesterday before Mubarak’s speech to “safeguard the interests” of the nation, sparking speculation that a military takeover was in progress. The panel is now in permanent session, the first since the October 1973 war with Israel.

Global stocks fell for a third day, U.S. index futures declined, and the dollar and oil rose, after Mubarak spoke. The cost of insuring Egyptian government debt soared 42 basis points to 379, the biggest increase in two weeks, according to CMA prices. Egypt’s 10-year bond yield jumped 29 basis points. The global depositary receipts of Commercial International Bank Egypt SAE, Egypt’s largest publicly traded lender, fell the most this month, dropping 7.2 percent to $5.65.

“We were all hoping that the statement by the president yesterday should calm things down, but obviously it hasn’t,” Radwan told the BBC. “That makes for a very difficult situation where things continue to deteriorate.”

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