Mubarak orders PM to meet protesters

EMBATTLED Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has ordered his new prime minister to talk with the opposition about political reforms and fight corruption.

Mubarak, who sacked his cabinet on Friday after a nationwide revolt, also said the new prime minister’s priority was restricting unemployment and creating new jobs.

“Above all that, and concurrent with it, I emphasise the importance of urgently, completely, effectively taking new and continuous steps for more political reforms, constitutional and legislative, through dialogue with all parties,” Mubarak said in an address carried by official media.

He also told Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in a formal address read out on television that the new government must “restore trust in our economy” and “decisively confront all forms of corruption.”

The address came after six day of protests in which Egyptians called for the 82-year-old president to step down and opposition figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei declared during a rally in central Cairo that Egypt was entering a new era.

A number of heads of state, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, today urged the Egyptian government to implement democratic reforms and to stop any further violence against protesters.

Merkel told Mubarak in a phone call that she expects him and his newly nominated government to grant freedom of information and the right to assemble to the people of Egypt.

She urged Mubarak in a lengthy conversation to open dialogue with the country’s citizens, and focus in particular on the concerns of Egypt’s youth.

She also told him that security forces have to stop exercising further violence against protesters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking at the African Union’s regular summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said that France would be “on the side of Tunisians and Egyptians in such a crucial period.”

“Our conscience needs to be pricked by the cries of innocent victims and move us toward finding a workable solution to prevent further suffering,” he added.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama discussed the Egyptian crisis last night, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.

“The prime minister and the president agreed that the Egyptian government must respond peacefully to the ongoing protests,” a spokeswoman said.

“They condemned the violence of recent days … The prime minister made clear that restrictions on the media and internet were unacceptable and should be lifted immediately.”

Cameron and Obama “were united in their view that Egypt now needed a comprehensive process of political reform, with an orderly, Egyptian-led transition leading to a government that responded to the grievances of the Egyptian people,” the spokeswoman said.

The British Foreign Office confirmed that a conversation between Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Egyptian counterpart had also taken place, but did not release any further details.

European Union officials said the unrest in Egypt would top the agenda at a meeting of EU foreign ministers later today in Brussels, as European countries advised their nationals to leave the region.

The EU has traditionally had close relations with Egypt as part of its partnerships with countries on the eastern and southern rims of the Mediterranean.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini demanded an end to violence and looting, particularly of Egypt’s cultural heritage, after would-be looters broke into Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum and ripped the heads off two mummies and damaged some artifacts.

Italy helped fund the restoration of Baghdad’s museum after looters carted off thousands of artifacts following the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In Washington, Obama told foreign leaders to spread word of the US administration’s desire for restraint and an orderly transition to a more responsive government in Egypt.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US wanted to see “real democracy” emerge in Egypt, “not a democracy for six months or a year and then evolving into essentially a military dictatorship”.

The White House said that Obama had sought input from European and Middle Eastern officials, and has told them that the US is focused on opposing violence and supporting broad democratic rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and speech.

Obama had also spoken with leaders from Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, also speaking at the African Union’s summit in Addis Ababa, called on the Egyptian government to respect fundamental freedoms and human rights.

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