Obama talks tough with embattled Mubarak

Washington: As revolt swept key ally Egypt, US President Barack Obama asked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to make good on his promises and avoid a violent response to the thousands of protesters in the streets. Obama spoke with Mubarak shortly after the latter addressed his country saying he was asking his government to make way for a new one and pledging to address the concerns of thousand of Egyptians protesting in Cairo’s streets.

As Mubarak spoke, Egyptian tanks rolled into the country’s major cities after the nation’s police force had been largely faced down by protesters on Friday. Demonstrators burned many police stations in Cairo and Alexandria and overturned and torched police vehicles, accprding to CNN.

"I just spoke to him after his speech," Obama said, "and told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise.

"Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away."

"This moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise," Obama said repeating his administration’s call for the Egyptian government to restore access to the internet and cell phone service.

"There must be reform," he said, "political, social and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

"In the absence of these reforms," he said, "grievances have built up over time.

"The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful," he concluded.

Obama’s remarks, delivered from State Dining Room, were the strongest yet from the United States, according to observers

The firmness of Obama’s comments signalled that the crisis in Egypt had passed a "critical turning point," the New York Times said citing an unnamed senior American official.

"Regardless of whether Mubarak survives, the upheaval has already transformed Egyptian politics and how the United States will handle a leader long seen as a stable anchor in a turbulent region," the official was quoted as saying.

Earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration is "very concerned" about the situation in Egypt, adding that at risk could be economic and military aid from the United States.

Gibbs declined to elaborate how the United States might alter relations with a key ally in the region but urged restraint as massive demonstrations have resulted in widespread property damage, including at the offices of Egypt’s ruling party.

Gibbs said the collective consequences of the government’s actions will be the subject of a review in determining whether the US will alter assistance toward Egypt. "Within that review is military" assistance, Gibbs said.

Egypt receives about $1.3 billion in military aid from Washington every year, second only to Israel, and has received nearly $30 billion in economic aid since 1975, according to State Department figures.

"The die is cast," said Leslie H. Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. "The administration has made clear that it leans toward the demonstrators."

Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy, in an opinion piece for CNN said: "It’s time for the United States to choose: Does it really support the democratic aspirations of the Arab world, or, when push comes to shove, will it tacitly side with the same autocrats it has been propping up for decades?



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