Thursday, February 03, 2011

Biden tells Egyptian leader must stop violence

Steve Holland And Susan Cornwell 1 hr 12 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Joe Biden made a direct appeal to his Egyptian counterpart on Thursday to ensure peaceful protests in Egypt do not lead to violence and U.S. lawmakers called for a speedy change in power in Egypt.

With signs pointing toward a new spasm of confrontation in Cairo on Friday, Biden telephoned Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman to call for "restraint by all sides" and urge the release of detained journalists and human rights advocates.

"He stressed that the Egyptian government is responsible for ensuring that peaceful demonstrations don't lead to violence and intimidation," the White House said.

U.S. lawmakers called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to transfer power to an inclusive caretaker government in a Senate resolution that went slightly beyond President Barack Obama's public position.

Two influential senators, Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry, wrote a proposal that expanded on Obama's demand for a transition in Egypt to begin now. It was approved by the Senate on a voice vote.

The measure demonstrates broad, unified American concern about Egypt and means that Mubarak, who for years had the confidence of Washington as a Middle East powerbroker, has seen his image completely shattered in the United States.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated U.S. demands that the Egyptian government and opposition representatives begin negotiations on a power transition.

Stephanie O'Sullivan, a CIA official nominated to become the principal deputy director of national intelligence, said U.S. intelligence officials had warned of instability in Egypt at the end of last year but did not foresee what would trigger the unrest at that time.

The Senate resolution, which could be approved by the 100-member chamber soon, does not specifically call on Mubarak to resign, although McCain has said he should step down.

The document calls for Mubarak to immediately begin an "orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system."

This should include "the transfer of power to an inclusive interim government in coordination with leaders from Egypt's opposition, civil society and military" to enact reforms needed to hold free and fair elections this year.

Kerry said on the Senate floor that the Egyptian government should move to an interim government "over these next days."

McCain expressed fears of a bloodbath and emphasized that Egypt's military was the most respected institution there but it risked turning people against it unless it acted "as a genuine peacemaker."

TALKING TO OTHER MIDEAST NATIONS

Amid concerns that a wave of protests that erupted in Tunisia and then Egypt could spread to other Middle Eastern capitals, Obama phoned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to follow up his pledges of reform with concrete actions.

The White House, which reported the Wednesday call on Thursday, said Obama also Saleh it is imperative that Yemen take forceful action against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Clinton spoke to Jordan's King Abdullah -- another close U.S. ally -- on Thursday to discuss Egypt and to express support for his own recent reforms, part of a wave of change by authoritarian governments across the Middle East seeking to head off Egypt-style unrest.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn, Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Bill Trott)

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