domingo, 30 de enero de 2011

Egyptians Defiant as Military Does Little to Quash Protests

Egyptian protesters prayed Saturday in front of a military vehicles in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on Saturday.
CAIRO — As President Hosni Mubarak struggled to maintain a tenuous hold on power and the Egyptian military reinforced strategic points in the capital, the United States said on Sunday it was offering evacuation flights for its citizens and urged all Americans currently in Egypt to “consider leaving as soon as they can safely do so.”  The announcement injected a stronger note of growing alarm among Egypt’s allies as an uprising against Mr. Mubarak’s almost three decades in power entered a sixth day, fraught with uncertainty about its outcome. Police have largely withdrawn from the country’s major cities and the military has done little so far to hold back tens of thousands of demonstrators defying a curfew to call for an end to Mr. Mubarak’s rule..

On Sunday, Turkey, a major regional player, also said it was sending three flights to evacuate 750 of its citizens from Cairo and Alexandria. France, Britain and Germany issued a joint statement urging President Mubarak and the protesters to show restraint. But, like President Obama, they did not call for the ouster of an autocratic leader who has cast himself as a lynchpin of Western diplomatic and security interests in the Middle East.

In a statement, the American Embassy here said it was telling “U.S. citizens in Egypt who wish to depart that the Department of State is making arrangements to provide transportation to safehaven locations in Europe.”

“Flights to evacuation points will begin departing Egypt on Monday, Jan. 31,” the statement said, adding that the Obama administration had authorized the “voluntary repatriation” of American citizens including diplomats’ dependents and some employees not dealing with emergencies, meaning they could choose to leave if they wished.

With the situation on the ground still fluid, soldiers appeared to have thrown up new roadblocks, turning back cars as Egyptians on foot filtered back into the city center following the end of the overnight curfew. Before dawn, around 50 tanks and other armored vehicles rolled into the upmarket suburb of Heliopolis, near the airport and close to President Mubarak’s home, and there seemed to be a renewed effort to tighten controls on the flow of news.

In another part of Cairo, witnesses reported seeing around 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers gathered for deployment in the same parade ground where the former President Anwar al-Sadat, who made the Camp David peace agreement with Israel in 1979, was assassinated in 1981. At that time, Mr. Mubarak was Vice President and the killing of Mr. Sadat propelled him into a position he has never left since, steadfastly refusing to name a successor.

In the central Tahrir, or Independence, Square — which has become an epicenter of protest — the demonstrators seemed greater than the thousands on Saturday, feting the military as guardians. At one point, crowds hoisted aloft an officer and processed through the throng chanting: “The people and the army are one hand.”

Sunday is usually the start of the working week here but banks schools and the stock market remained closed in a city paralyzed by the uprising, scarred by looting and braced for further protests. Some Cairenes said gas stations were running out of fuel and many automated cash machines had either run out of money or had been looted.

State television said Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite broadcaster whose coverage of the turmoil in the Arab world has spread word of protests from capital to capital, was being taken off the air in Egypt. But, initially at least, the station continued to broadcast. Earlier, its Arabic channel had proclaimed: “Egypt speaks for itself.” Internet connections remained cut on Sunday as the authorities sought to contain the potential spread of unrest.

Egypt closed its border with the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, Paletinian authorities said. In a highly unusual development, a diplomat said, Israel authorized Egyptian troops to take up positions in the north of the Sinai peninsula, despite a prohibition on such deployments in the 1979 Camp David peace accord. The diplomat spoke in return for anonymity in light of the sensitivity of the issue.

As street protests flared for a fifth day on Saturday, Mr. Mubarak fired his cabinet and appointed Omar Suleiman, his right-hand man and the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president, stirring speculation that he might be planning to resign. That, in turn, raised the prospect of an unpredictable handover of power in a country that is a pivotal American ally — a fear that administration officials say factored into President Obama’s calculus not to push for Mr. Mubarak’s resignation, at least for now.