• 21:55
  • Thursday ,03 February 2011

Egypt's prime minister apologizes and vows probe into violence

By-the CNN Wire Staff

International News


Thursday ,03 February 2011

Egypt's prime minister apologizes and vows probe into violence

 Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Egypt's embattled regime moved Thursday to defuse a bloody uprising as sporadic clashes continued in the capital's central square, where the drama has been unfolding for 10 days.

President Hosni Mubarak's newly appointed prime minister apologized repeatedly for the violence that rocked Cairo on Wednesday, which many believe was the work of pro-government thugs, and vowed to investigate.
Mubarak supporters converged with anti-government crowds Wednesday in a confrontation that quickly evolved into continuing mayhem in the city's Tahrir Square. At least five people were killed and 836 injured, including 200 within one hour Thursday morning, according to the health ministry.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq blamed infiltrators and a "complete disappearance" of police for the human toll in the "catastrophe." Vice President Omar Suleiman said the perpetrators of the violence would be held accountable.
"This group got in and some clashes happened," Shafiq said, adding that he would look into whether the violence was part of an organized attempt to disband the opposition.
The government also froze the bank accounts of former leaders and imposed a travel ban that restricts them from exiting the country, state-run television said. The travel ban will remain in effect "until national security is restored and the authorities and monitoring bodies have undergone their investigations," Nile TV said.
Among the leaders facing the punitive measures is Habib Adli, former minister of the interior, which oversees Egypt's police forces.
And Suleiman, tapped as Mubarak's vice president last Saturday, announced that Mubarak's son, Gamal, who was being groomed as his father's successor, will not run for president in September elections.
Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, has already announced he will not seek re-election. But that concession has fallen far short with protesters demanding immediate change.
Egyptian anger continued to surface in Tahrir Square on Thursday as pro-Mubarak crowds, albeit thinner than the previous day, clashed again with the government's opponents.
Earlier, the sound of sustained gunfire echoed through central Cairo. The military maneuvered to separate the two sides but in the afternoon, in parts of the square, the soldiers were nowhere to be seen.
Anti-government demonstrators hunkered down behind makeshift barricades and small fires burned in the square, with some spreading to trees and walls. Chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails flew as the crisis escalated.
Shafiq appealed to his compatriots, especially Egypt's youth, to show patience as the government's leadership goes through the transitional period.
"It has great meaning not to hurt each other, hurt our reputation," he said. "Do they want what happened in Tunisia to happen here?" Shafiq said, referring to the revolt in Tunisia that ousted the nation's longtime strongman and served as inspiration for other nations in the region that have seen similar demonstrations.
Shafiq said he and Suleiman planned to meet with the opposition -- including protesters in Tahrir Square. He said no one would be excluded from the national dialog, including the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed Islamist umbrella group.
But spokesman Essam El-Erian, said the Muslim Brotherhood will not participate in talks with the regime.
"We refuse to sit with him," El-Erian said Thursday, referring to Suleiman.
Other key opposition groups have also rejected meeting invitations, including the secular liberal Wafd Party and the Al-Ghad party, led by former presidential candidate Ayman Nour.
Journalists covering the crisis have also become targets -- beaten, bloodied, harassed and detained by men, most all in some way aligned with Mubarak. Numerous news outlets -- including the BBC, ABC News and CNN -- reported members of their staffs had been attacked, most on the streets of Cairo.
In several cases, news personnel were accused of being "foreign spies," seized, whisked away, and often assaulted. A spokesman for the United States blasted forces in Egypt who have harassed, detained and beaten journalists.
"There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday on Twitter. "We condemn such actions."
In Washington, President Barack Obama addressed the Egyptian crisis at the National Prayer Breakfast.
"We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world," he said.
Obama's comments came after the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a statement urging a "rapid and peaceful transition" and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Mubarak to act "as quickly as possible" on that transition.
In the nation's second-largest city of Alexandria, some signs of normalcy could be seen Thursday as trams returned to the streets for the first time in days.
A group of fishermen said they wanted life to get back to normal and one Mubarak supporter said the protests in Cairo were humiliating.
Mubarak loyalists, who had been largely silent since the unrest began, came out in full force Wednesday -- in one case wielding whips and thundering through the crowd on horses and camels.
"What you are seeing is the demonstration of the real Egyptian people who are trying to take back their country, trying to take back their street," said businessman Khaled Ahmed, who described himself as "pro-Egyptian."
But some observers said the pro-Mubarak push Wednesday was likely orchestrated by a regime bent on breaking up peaceful demonstrations.
"These are tactics that are well-known in Egypt," Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN's John King.
It was unclear whether confrontations were being repeated elsewhere. Other Cairo neighborhoods were calm, and rallies in Egypt's second-largest city, Alexandria, were largely peaceful.
Cairo resident Waleed Tawfik noted that Tahrir Square is the size of a football stadium, and the events there are not representative of peaceful protests elsewhere.
"There are 29 governors in Egypt," Tawfik said. "I don't understand why the whole international media is focused on a geographic area around about a half-kilometer by a half-kilometer."
He professed neutrality on Mubarak, but said the man who has ruled Egypt for three decades should be allowed to finish his term.
"I'd be worried if the president packed up and left at the request of 60,000 people," Tawfik said. "Eighty-four million is a larger voice ... (to) reconstruct the government and reshuffle ministers won't happen over day and night."
CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, Arwa Damon, Jenifer Fenton, and journalist Ian Lee contributed to this report.