Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jordan: revolution fears in Algeria, Yemen and Syria


With protests in several Middle East countries, there are also now fears for Algeria, Yemen and Syria.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled the country since 1999, was elected on the promise to end the violence that had plagued the country for much of its history since independence from France in 1962.
To a certain extent he has succeeded, and after years of political upheaval the country is beginning to emerge as a centre of enterprise, heavily assisted by the country's huge oil and gas reserves. It has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign oil firms.
However, poverty remains a serious problem and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria's youth. Almost 50 per cent of Algeria's 34.6 million people are under 25, and the youthful population coupled with a lack of jobs has made Algeria something of a simmering cauldron. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.
Mounting grievances over spiralling costs and unemployment triggered the riots earlier this month, encouraged by public protests in Tunisia that forced its president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee.On Monday a third Algerian died from self-immolation, while another tried to set himself alight Sunday, adding to a grim tally of Tunisia-inspired acts.
The incident on Sunday, in the capital Algiers, marked the 10th attempted self-immolation since January 12.
Syrians are organising campaigns on Facebook and Twitter that call for a "day of rage" in Damascus this week, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia in using social networking sites to rally their followers for sweeping political reforms.
Like Egypt and Tunisia, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment. All three nations have seen subsidy cuts on staples like bread and oil. Syria's authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime.
On Sunday a group of 39 activists and opposition figures issued a statement hailing Egypt and Tunisia's protesters, but Mr Assad has shown no signs of flinching.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Mr Assad said Syria was "immune" from the turmoil affecting Egypt and Tunisia.
"We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries, but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people," Mr Assad said.
"If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform," he was quoted as saying.
"If you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action and ... you are going to fail."
Mr Assad, a 45-year-old British-trained eye doctor, inherited power from his father, Hafez, in 2000, after three decades of authoritarian rule.
He has since moved slowly to lift Soviet-style economic restrictions, letting in foreign banks, throwing the doors open to imports and empowering the private sector.
But Mr Assad has not matched liberal economics with political reforms and critics of the regime are routinely locked up, drawing an outcry from international human rights groups.
He is seen by many Arabs, however, as one of the few leaders in the region willing to stand up to arch enemy Israel. And his support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups opposed to the Jewish state as well as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq has won him more support among his people than other Arab rulers.
Yemen's president, facing demands that he resign, has called for a meeting of parliament and the consultative council, as the opposition has declared that it is "too late" for dialogue and that he must go.
Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to address the special meeting ahead of a "day of rage" that civil society organisations have called for Thursday.
Facing protests that have multiplied since the mid-January ouster of Tunisia's president, Mr Saleh has taken measures aimed at soothing popular discontent.
President Ali Abdallah Saleh has been in power since 1978. The authority of the central government has been challenged by southern separatists, northern rebels and al-Qaeda militants, and has recently been rocked by events in Tunisia and Egypt.
On Monday, after increasing wages and reducing incomes taxes, he ordered the creation of a fund to employ university graduates and to extend social security coverage. He also decided to exempt university students from the rest of their tuition fees for this academic year, and charged the high council of universities to reduce the cost of a degree.
A governing body of Mr Saleh's General People's Congress party called on Friday for a resumption of dialogue with opposition parties, which are currently at an impasse.
Yemenis are now calling for "changing the regime and the ouster of the president."
Yemen is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Middle East.

Mubarak, the shah and the 30-year itch

There's a sense of deja vu about Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak and his crumbling 30-year dictatorship. Mubarak, who has been a staunch American ally, propped up with billions in taxpayer dollars, called a key to U.S. policy in the region and a human rights abuser, and now twisting slowly in the wind, is pledging to hold on - at least through the end of the week.

Reminds us of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi - a staunch American ally, propped up with U.S. support, called a key to U.S. policy in the region (installed by the CIA, after all, as a bulwark against the Soviets) and toppled in 1979 after nearly 38 years in power.

In Southeast Asia we had dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, another staunch ally, human rights violator, key to policy in the region, propped up by billions in taxpayer dollars, ousted in the People Power Revolution after a 20-year reign.

Closer to home there was Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, another ally and anti-communist, a major human rights abuser who ran the Chilean army for some 25 years and was president for 17 years.

Dictators past have taken a couple years or so to overthrow but, as Ken Pollak of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center observed, "the pace of change" has accelerated in recent years. In the past it's been something like a 30-year itch before the people finally begin revolt (Libya's wacky Moammar Gaddafi, on top for more than 40 years, for the moment being the exception). In the Internet age, that may no longer apply.

But, like "True Grit," seems we've seen this show before, even if we don't know the precise ending.

The author you have . . .
Finally! It's here. The book you've been waiting for - former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's new memoir, "Known and Unknown" (we would have preferred "Stuff Happens"), is on sale next week, and he's taking his show on the road.

The "first stop on his highly anticipated national book tour" will be next Wednesday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a center news release tells us. The book "chronicles his long career in public service," from his time in Congress - he was elected 48 years ago - to his work in the Nixon, Ford and Bush II administrations.

"Long career" is a euphemism for very, very long book, and this one weighs in at a hefty 2.6 pounds and 832 exciting pages, all for just $36. The Wednesday launch includes a "conversation" to be "facilitated by presidential historian Michael Beschloss," where Rumsfeld "will discuss previously undisclosed details and insight into the Bush administration." Tickets for that are only $15, and books will be available for purchase (and signing) right there.

The title echoes Rumsfeld's famous observations about "known knowns" and "unknown unknowns" and so on. Unclear whether there will be questions from the audience, but you should have some ready. For example, you might ask what caused the Army chief of staff at the time, Gen. Eric Shinseki - now secretary of veterans affairs - to be so completely wrong when he said the United States would need a few hundred thousand troops in Iraq.

Rumsfeld might also explain how the prediction that the war would pay for itself was pretty much on target, or perhaps how the post-invasion Iraqi turmoil was just like Germany in 1945-47, or how those weapons of mass destruction may yet be found - okay, maybe in Iran, but that's not all that far away and, after all, they are spelled similarly.

Washington memoirs are famous for settling scores, so if you're lucky enough to get a seat, buy the book , go immediately to the index and look for Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice . . .

Not to be missed. Reservations can be made online at www.constitutioncenter.org.

A happy landing
Loop Fans may recall Sen. Jim Inhofe's little problem with the Federal Aviation Administration in October after he landed his twin-engine Cessna 340 on the main runway in Port Isabel, Tex.

The problem was there were these huge X's on the runway showing it was closed and workmen were out there painting and doing general maintenance as Inhofe (R-Okla.) zipped by.

The matter, we're happy to report, seems now to be resolved in what appears to be the aeronautic equivalent of a nolo contendere plea.

Inhofe, 76, told us Tuesday morning that he was confident he did nothing wrong and had been cleared by a controller to land on the runway. But he said he agreed to what he said was "painless" remedial training rather than go through a legal enforcement action. (That might have led to a license suspension.)

The training, done in Tulsa, consisted of four hours of instruction on the ground and three hours of flight instruction by an instructor who, oddly enough, Inhofe had trained many years ago.

The FAA, in a Jan. 4 letter Inhofe sent us, said that it had "concluded that based on your satisfactory completion of the remedial training program, legal enforcement action will not be pursued." Instead, the letter would remain on record for two years, "after which the record of this matter would be expunged. This letter constitutes neither an admission nor an adjudication of a violation."

Inhofe praised the FAA and said "I could not have been treated better" by the agency, though he acknowledged that his being a senator may have had something to do with the treatment he got. (We hear the FAA insists not.)

He said he would announce on the Senate floor Tuesday that he would introduce legislation that would give pilots greater access to controllers' records and provide for an appeal before a license is revoked.

Mubarak says he plans to step down, but crowd tells him to 'leave'


Faced with an unprecedented popular revolt that drew record crowds of protesters to downtown Cairo Tuesday, U.S.-backed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he would step down before elections this fall, a humbling end to his 30 years of authoritarian rule.
"I will say, with all honesty and without looking at this particular situation, that I was not intending to stand for the next elections because I've spent enough time serving Egypt," Mubarak said in a televised speech. "I'm now careful to conclude my work for Egypt by presenting Egypt to the next government in a constitutional way."

Mubarak acted after President Barack Obama sent a special envoy to Cairo, urging him not to seek re-election, and following calls from Turkey and Iran to step down.

Obama later telephoned Mubarak, and in a "direct and frank" 30-minute conversation, told him an orderly transition to a new regime had to begin immediately, the White House said. In a nationally televised appearance, Obama all but ignored Mubarak's announcement, declaring that "an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful and must begin now."

Initial reaction was mostly negative among protesters in Tahrir Square, where earlier Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians - more than a million by some estimates - staged a festive rally to demand the president's ouster.

"He's leaving! He's leaving!" some protesters shouted gleefully. More than an hour after he spoke, however, chants continued to echo from Tahrir Square as protesters vowed to keep flooding Egypt's streets until Mubarak heeded their demand to resign immediately.

"We have only one condition: We need Mubarak to be out of our lives," said Mostafa Fathy, 28, an online journalist and activist. "He's supposed to be out of the game now."

The 82-year-old Mubarak appeared to make some concessions to the protesters, saying there should be presidential term limits and fewer restrictions on who can run for public office. But he didn't dissolve parliament, which is filled almost completely with members of his ruling party.

All day long, protesters had chanted, "Leave!" It came from the mouths of children draped in the Egyptian flag, bearded clerics in turbans, teenagers dancing to a drumbeat and elderly women with tears in their eyes. Long before the president's speech, cameras flashed and video recorders rolled as the protesters documented what they hoped would go down in Egyptian history as the end of Mubarak's regime.

"In my whole life, I've never known another president, and suddenly I can't imagine how he can stay for even one more day," said Tasneem Osman, 26. "He has to go. He will go."

Before Mubarak's appearance around 11 p.m., state TV stations mostly ignored the crowds in the square, instead airing call-in shows with government supporters and dismissing independent news coverage as tainted by foreign interests. The government's intense pressure on the protesters continued: an Internet shutdown, spotty phone service, a nationwide curfew, shuttered banks, no trains from other provinces and a crackdown on journalists.

Despite the obstacles, this week-old rebellion with no clearly defined leadership drew massive crowds in an atmosphere that was peaceful and jubilant well into the night. Young protesters made up chants like freestyle rappers, playing with puns and rhymes. Placards depicted Mubarak as Hitler or with devilish horns. An effigy of the president dangled from a noose tied to a traffic light.

"The people said it clearly: They want a new democratic regime and this regime has lost its legitimacy," opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei told Al-Jazeera television. "I would have liked that President Mubarak would listen to the sounds of the millions that went out today."

Even without Mubarak's immediate ouster, the movement has achieved in a week something opposition groups have attempted in vain for decades. Mubarak was forced to name his first-ever vice president, the former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Habib el Adly, the interior minister who was detested for the alleged brutality of his police force, was unceremoniously sacked.

A young boy was perched on a man's shoulders, waving an Egyptian flag as he yelled a chant aimed at Suleiman. The newly appointed vice president is a strong contender for interim leadership should Mubarak leave sooner.

"We don't need America's man. Omar Suleiman, leave the country!" the boy shouted. More than a dozen adult protesters chanted along with him, cheering and snapping photos.

The anti-government movement has steadily grown more defiant - and more disciplined. While military tanks hung back on the outskirts of the square, citizen volunteers checked IDs and searched Egyptians streaming into the square. In the middle of the frenzy, ordinary people were collecting trash - a rare sight in Egypt even when the country is not in turmoil.

"I came for the liberation of my country," said Yahya Zakaria, 29, slight man with sunken cheeks who took a bus several hundred miles from southern Egypt to Cairo to participate in the Jan. 25 protest, the first major rally. He's been camping in the square ever since, and on Tuesday he picked up garbage.

Zakaria's voice was hoarse from chanting slogans such as, "Mubarak, you are cheap; Egypt is worth more than you!" He needed a change of clothes, but he seemed convinced that the only president he's ever known was on his way out.

"Before, I didn't love my country," he said. "Now I love my country a lot."

Reports that demonstrators would march en masse nearly eight miles from Tahrir Square to the presidential palace didn't materialize. At midday, cranes were laying stone roadblocks outside the palace gates and Mubarak's presidential guard forces had posted tanks to block the roads.

Activists said that they had decided such a huge crowd marching such a long distance was unwieldy and could put them in conflict with the Egyptian army, which is deployed throughout Cairo but so far has allowed the demonstrations to carry on mostly unfettered.

"We didn't want to clash with anyone, and we wanted to avoid thugs or police that might have put some traps for us," said Ahmed Salah, an activist with the April 6 youth movement, a pro-democracy group.

Some in the crowd greeted Mubarak's announcement with satisfaction. Moataz Shalaby, 27, a real-estate salesman who brought a "Mubarak, Get Out" sign to the square Tuesday afternoon, said after the speech that at least Egyptians had the end of the Mubarak era in sight.

He said he would have been happier if Mubarak said he would dissolve the parliament after his ruling National Democratic Party won 97 percent of the seats in November elections that were widely described as rigged.

"The problem is the system of that party," Shalaby said. "All of them follow the same management school, so we need another school, another system, another everything."

Power to the people


Millions of Egyptians are protesting on the streets against the tyrannical Mubarak regime. Despite all this, President Hosni Mubarak is being his usual stubborn self — a trademark of all dictators who refuse to see the writing on the wall. What is heartening though is how the Egyptian army is handling the precarious situation. It has refused to ‘crush’ the protests and vowed not to use force against the people. In a statement released on January 31, the Egyptian army stressed that it is “aware of the legitimate demands of the honourable citizens” and that the “presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people”. If the army is not willing to put down the uprising and lets it continue peacefully, surely it means that the people of Egypt have won.

The protests in Egypt were so far leaderless but now Nobel Laureate and former Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is emerging as the new face of this resistance movement. Both the secularists and the Islamists have tactically agreed on this issue. Mr ElBaradei has asked the US administration not to support the Mubarak regime. He said, “The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy.” The US administration is also distancing itself from Hosni Mubarak and getting ready for a transition. The US gives around $ 1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt apart from hundreds of millions of dollars for the state. Recent events have forced the White House to review its aid policy, which may be why Egypt’s military chief, Lieutenant General Sami Enan, who was on a visit to Washington last week, cut short his visit to return to his country. Egypt is an important ally of both the US and Israel. Peace in Egypt is essential for policing Gaza’s border on the Egyptian side. It seems that the Egyptian armed forces have understood the signal from the US and have decided therefore to refrain from using military might against the protestors. Mubarak has no hope left: his people want him gone, he has tacitly been dumped by his biggest backers in the international arena, and his own army has also sent him a loud and clear message, i.e. to exit peacefully because it is untenable to save him any longer. It is time for Mr Mubarak to go.

The protests in Egypt have taken the Arab world by storm. What began in Tunisia will likely not end in Egypt; the tremors are now being felt in Jordan as well where King Abdullah has dismissed the Jordanian cabinet and appointed a new prime minister after thousands of protestors demanded Prime Minister Samir Rifai’s resignation and an end to unemployment and rising prices. What King Abdullah does not understand is that a change in cabinet is not the answer to the woes of the Jordanian people. Political reforms in the Arab world would mean an end to monarchy and authoritarian regimes. Today the Arab people are standing up for their rights; they want democracy, freedom of speech and basic human rights. It is about time that they get what they have long been denied. More power to the people of the Arab world. *


Turkish PM backs Egypt protesters

Turkey has finally broken its silence over the Egyptian crisis after major newspapers criticised the government for its inexplicable silence on the issue.

Addressing members of his AKP party in parliament, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, has thrown his weight completely behind the protesters in Egypt.

Erdogan appealed to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president: "You have to listen to the wishes of the people in order to create security and stability. First you must take steps that are good for Egypt. You must take steps that satisfy the people."

Erdogan said on Tuesday that he was putting off a visit to the Egyptian capital of Cairo next week, but would go once Egypt returns to normal.

Turkey is hailed as the only democratic country in the Muslim world.

'Reforms needed'

Erdogan called for anti-government protesters to refrain from violence and protect the country's cultural heritage. "Everyone has the right to fight for freedom, but without violence,” said the Turkish PM.

"You must not forget that the people who oppose you are still human, still your brothers."

He also talked about political reforms in the Middle East. “Our greatest wish in Egypt and Tunisia is that reforms are implemented as soon as possible, but also that peace and security are established,” said Erdogan.

He also underlined Turkey’s priorities towards supporting democratic cause. He said: "I spoke to president Barack Obama. He found it important to hear Turkey's view as a democratic country in the region."

Iran sees 'Islamic Middle East'

Also supporting Egyptian protesters is the government of Iran.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the Foreign Minister, said Iran will offer its support to the protesters in Egypt.

"On our part we are going along with the freedom seekers of the world and support the uprising of the great nation of Egypt. We sympathise with those injured and killed" in the protests, he said.

Iran said on Tuesday the uprising in Egypt will help create an Islamic Middle East but accused US officials of interfering in the "freedom seeking" movement which has rocked the Arab nation.

Salehi, who was officially endorsed by the Iranian parliament on Sunday as foreign minister, said the uprising in Egypt "showed the need for a change in the region and the end of unpopular regimes."

"The people of Tunisia and Egypt prove that the time of controlling regimes by world arrogance (the West) has ended and people are trying to have their own self-determination," said Salehi, who also oversees Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

Egypt crowds unmoved by Mubarak's vow not to run

President Hosni Mubarak defied a quarter-million protesters demanding he step down immediately, announcing Tuesday he would serve out the last months of his term and "die on Egyptian soil." He promised not to seek re-election, but that did not calm public fury as clashes erupted between his opponents and supporters.
The protesters, whose numbers multiplied more than tenfold in a single day Tuesday for their biggest rally yet, have insisted they will not end their unprecedented week-old wave of unrest until their ruler for nearly three decades goes.
Mubarak's halfway concession — an end to his rule seven months down the road — threatened to inflame frustration and anger among protesters, who have been peaceful in recent days.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, clashes erupted between several hundred protesters and government supporters soon afterward, according to footage by Al-Jazeera television. The protesters threw stones at their rivals, who wielded knives and sticks, until soldiers fired in the air and stepped in between them, said a local journalist, Hossam el-Wakil.
The speech was immediately derided by protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Watching on a giant TV, protesters booed and waved their shoes over their heads at his image in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted. One man screamed, "He doesn't want to say it, he doesn't want to say it."
In the 10-minute address, the 82-year-old Mubarak appeared somber but spoke firmly and without an air of defeat. He insisted that even if the protests had never happened, he would not have sought a sixth term in September.
He said he would serve out the rest of his term working "to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power." He said he will carry out amendments to rules on presidential elections.
Mubarak, a former air force commander, vowed not to flee the country. "This is my dear homeland ... I have lived in it, I fought for it and defended its soil, sovereignty and interests. On its soil I will die. History will judge me and all of us."
The step came after heavy pressure from his top ally, the United States. Soon after Mubarak's address, President Barack Obama said at the White House that he had spoken with Mubarak and "he recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place." Obama said he told Mubarak that an orderly transition must be meaningful and peaceful, must begin now and must include opposition parties.
Earlier, a visiting Obama envoy — former ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, who is a friend of the Egyptian president — met with Mubarak and made clear to him that it is the U.S. "view that his tenure as president is coming to a close," according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the ongoing diplomacy.
The United States has been struggling to find a way to ease Mubarak out of office while maintaining stability in Egypt, a key ally in the Mideast that has a 30-year-old peace treaty with Israel and has been a bulwark against Islamic militancy.
Mubarak would be the second Arab leader pushed from office by a popular uprising in the history of the modern Middle East, following the ouster last month of the president of Tunisia — another North African nation.
The U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Margaret Scobey, spoke by telephone Tuesday with Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the embassy said. ElBaradei, a pro-democracy advocate and one of the opposition's most prominent leaders, has taken a key role in formulating the movement's demands. He is also a member of a new committee formed by various factions to conduct any future negotiations on the protesters' behalf once Mubarak steps down.
There was no immediate word on what he and Scobey discussed.
Only a month ago, reform activists would have greeted Mubarak's announcement with joy — many Egyptians believed Mubarak was going to run again despite health issues. But after the past week of upheaval, Mubarak's address struck many of his opponents as inadequate.
"The people have spoken. They said no to Mubarak, and they will not go back on their words," said Saad el-Katatni, a leading member of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. "Enough suffering. Let him go, and leave the Egyptians to sort themselves out."
Ayman Nour, a former presidential candidate who is a member of the negotiating committee, said Mubarak clearly didn't get the message.
"This is a unique case of stubbornness that will end in a disaster," he said. "It is only expected that he wasn't going to run because of his age.... He offered nothing new."
Tuesday's protest marked a dramatic escalation that organizers said aims to drive Mubarak out by Friday, with more than 250,000 people flooding into Tahrir, or Liberation, Square.
Protesters jammed in shoulder to shoulder: farmers and unemployed university graduates, women in conservative headscarves and women in high heels, men in suits and working-class men in scuffed shoes. Many in the crowd traveled from rural provinces, defying a government transportation shutdown and roadblocks on intercity highways.
They sang nationalist songs, danced, beat drums and chanted the anti-Mubarak slogan "Leave! Leave! Leave!" as military helicopters buzzed overhead. Similar demonstrations erupted in at least five other cities around Egypt.
Soldiers at checkpoints set up at the entrances of the square did nothing to stop the crowds from entering. The military promised on state TV Monday night that it would not fire on protesters answering a call for a million to demonstrate, a sign that army support for Mubarak may be unraveling.
The movement to drive Mubarak out has been built on the work of online activists and fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant. After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the Tunisia unrest took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable series of protests across this nation of 80 million.
The repercussions were being felt around the Mideast, as other authoritarian governments fearing popular discontent pre-emptively tried to burnish their democratic image.
Jordan's King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the face of smaller street protests, named an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet and ordered him to launch political reforms. The Palestinian Cabinet in the West Bank said it would hold long-promised municipal elections "as soon as possible."
Egypt's protesters have rejected earlier concessions by Mubarak, including the dissolution of his government, the naming of a new one and the appointment of a vice president, Omar Suleiman, who offered a dialogue with "political forces" over constitutional and legislative reforms.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya television Tuesday, ElBaradei dismissed Suleiman's offer, saying there could be no negotiations until Mubarak leaves. In his speech, Mubarak said the offer still stands and promised to change constitutional articles that allow the president unlimited terms and limit those who can run for the office.
Egypt's state TV on Tuesday ran a statement by the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, pleading with the public to "give a chance" to his government.
The United States ordered nonessential U.S. government personnel and their families to leave Egypt. They join a wave of people rushing to flee the country — over 18,000 overwhelmed Cairo's international airport and threw it into chaos. EgyptAir staff scuffled with frantic passengers, food supplies were dwindling and some policemen even demanded substantial bribes before allowing foreigners to board their planes.
Banks, schools and the stock market in Cairo were closed for the third working day, making cash tight. Bread prices spiraled. An unprecedented shutdown of the Internet was in its fifth day.
The official death toll from the crisis stood at 97, with thousands injured, though reports from witnesses across the country indicated the actual toll was far higher.
But perhaps most startling was how peaceful the protests have been in recent days, after the military replaced the police around Tahrir Square and made no move to try to suppress the demonstrations. No clashes between the military and protesters have been reported since Friday night, after pitched street battles with the police throughout the day Friday.
Egypt's military leadership has reassured the U.S. that they do not intend to crack down on demonstrators, but instead they are allowing the protesters to "wear themselves out," according to a former U.S. official in contact with several top Egyptian army officers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Troops alongside Soviet-era and newer U.S.-made Abrams tanks stood guard at roads leading into Tahrir Square. Protester volunteers wearing tags reading "the People's Security" circulated through the crowds in the square, saying they were watching for government infiltrators who might try to instigate violence. Organizers said the protest would remain in the square and not attempt to march to the presidential palace to avoid frictions with the military.
Two effigies of Mubarak dangled from traffic lights. On their chests was written: "We want to put the murderous president on trial." Their faces were scrawled with the Star of David, an allusion to many protesters' feeling that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, still seen by most Egyptians as their country's archenemy more than 30 years after the two nations signed a peace treaty.
Every protester had their own story of why they came — with a shared theme of frustration with a life pinned in by corruption, low wages, crushed opportunities and abuse by authorities. Under Mubarak, Egypt has seen a widening gap between rich and poor, with 40 percent of the population living under or just above the poverty line set by the World Bank at $2 a day.
Sahar Ahmad, a 41-year-old school teacher and mother of one, said she has taught for 22 years and still only makes about $70 a month.
"There are 120 students in my classroom. That's more than any teacher can handle," said Ahmad. "Change would mean a better education system I can teach in and one that guarantees my students a good life after school. If there is democracy in my country, then I can ask for democracy in my own home."
Tamer Adly, a driver of one of the thousands of minibuses that ferry commuters around Cairo, said he was sick of the daily humiliation he felt from police who demand free rides and send him on petty errands, reflecting the widespread public anger at police high-handedness.
"They would force me to share my breakfast with them ... force me to go fetch them a newspaper. This country should not just be about one person," the 30-year-old lamented, referring to Mubarak.
Among the older protesters, there was also a sense of amazement after three decades of unquestioned control by Mubarak's security forces over the streets.
"We could never say no to Mubarak when we were young, but our young people today proved that they can say no, and I'm here to support them," said Yusra Mahmoud, a 46-year-old school principal who said she had been sleeping in the square alongside other protesters for the past two nights.
Authorities shut down all roads and public transportation to Cairo and in and out of other main cities, security officials said. Train services nationwide were suspended for a second day and all bus services between cities were halted.
Still, many from the provinces managed to make it to the square. Hamada Massoud, a 32-year-old lawyer, said he and 50 others came in cars and minibuses from the impoverished province of Beni Sweif south of Cairo.
"Cairo today is all of Egypt," he said. "I want my son to have a better life and not suffer as much as I did ... I want to feel like I chose my president."

Mubarak not to run for another term

Egypt's president says in a speech that he will step down at the next election but would stay in office until then.
Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has said in a televised address that he will not run for another term and step down at the next election but will stay in office till then.

The next presidential election is scheduled for September. Until now, officials had indicated Mubarak, 82, would likely run for a sixth six-year term of office.


Afghan war winnable without Pakistan help on border: US

WASHINGTON — NATO-led forces can still win the war in Afghanistan even if Pakistan fails to move against militant havens on the border, a top US general said on Tuesday.
"That's not a mission stopper in my mind," General David Rodriguez, deputy US commander in Afghanistan, told a Pentagon news conference.
US officials have long pressed Islamabad to crack down on the Haqqani network and other militants based in North Waziristan, saying the insurgents exploit the area as a sanctuary to stage attacks on coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
But Rodriguez said the war effort would not be derailed even if Pakistan never fulfils promises to take action in North Waziristan, saying Islamabad has launched effective operations elsewhere along the northwest border.
"We need them to do more. We're going to encourage them to do more because that makes it easier on what we're doing. But I think it's still doable, without them decreasing what they've been doing, which is significant," he said.
His comments contrasted with more pessimistic assessments from US intelligence agencies and some lawmakers, who have warned that Pakistan's reluctance to combat the Haqqani network in North Waziristan could undermine the war effort.
Pakistan has maintained ties to some militant groups as a hedge against historic rival India and to ensure Islamabad's influence in Afghanistan, diplomats say.
Rodriguez said he expected violence in Afghanistan to increase as usual in the spring as the insurgency launches its annual "seasonal" offensive.
But he predicted the Taliban would change its approach, targeting Afghan officials for assassination while moving away from confrontations with the heavily-armed coalition force.
With President Barack Obama planning to start a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in July, Rodriguez said it was too early to say how many forces might be pulled out.
Rodriguez leads the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, serving under the overall commander in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus.

Obama Urges Mubarak Not to Run Again

WASHINGTON — President Obama has told the embattled president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, that he should not run for another term in elections in the fall, effectively withdrawing American support for its closest Arab ally, according to American diplomats in Cairo and Washington.

Al Arabiya television, citing unnamed sources, reported that Mr. Mubarak would announce in a nationwide address Tuesday evening that he would not run for another term.

The message was conveyed to Mr. Mubarak by Frank G. Wisner, a seasoned former diplomat with deep ties to Egypt, these officials said. Mr. Wisner’s message, they said, was not a blunt demand for Mr. Mubarak to step aside now, but firm counsel that he should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September to elect a new Egyptian leader.

This back channel message, authorized directly by Mr. Obama, would appear to tip the administration beyond the delicate balancing act it has performed in the last week — resisting calls for Mr. Mubarak to step down, even as it has called for an “orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt.

It was not clear whether the administration favors Mr. Mubarak turning over the reins to a transitional government, composed of leaders of the opposition movement perhaps under the leadership of Mohamed ElBaradei, or a caretaker government led by members of the existing regime, including the newly-appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman.

But the decision to nudge Mr. Mubarak in the direction of leaving is a critical step for the United States in defining how its dealings not just with its most critical ally in the Arab world, but with the rising swell of popular anger on the streets of Cairo and in nearby countries like Jordan, Yemen, Algeria and Tunisia.

Mr. Wisner, who is now heading back to Washington, is among the country’s most experienced diplomats, and a friend of Mr. Mubarak. His mission was to “keep a conversation going,” according to a close friend of Mr. Wisner’s.

As a result, this person said, the administration’s first message to the Egyptian leader was not that he had to leave office, but rather that his time in office was quickly coming to a close. Mr. Wisner, who consulted closely with the White House, is expected to be the point person to deal with Mr. Mubarak as the situation evolves, and perhaps as the administration’s message hardens.

Mr. Wisner’s mission took shape over the weekend in a White House meeting, after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recommended his name to the national security advisor, Thomas E. Donilon.

Reinforcing the administration’s message to Mr. Mubarak was an Op-ed article in The New York Times on Tuesday by Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he advised Mr. Mubarak to bow out gracefully “to make way for a new political structure.”

Million Egyptians clamor for Mubarak to go

'Talks only after Mubarak leaves'

A coalition of opposition groups have told Egypt's government that they would only begin talks with the military on a transition to democracy once president Hosni Mubarak stands down.

Massive protests over the past week have shaken Mubarak's 30-year grip on power, forcing him to appoint a deputy and new cabinet.

But protesters, emboldened by an army vow not to use force against them, say they will continue until Mubarak quits.

"Our first demand is that Mubarak goes. Only after that can dialogue start with the military establishment on the details of a peaceful transition of power," said Mohammed al-Beltagi, a former member of parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Beltagi said the opposition was operating under an umbrella group, the National Committee for Following up the People's Demands, which includes the Brotherhood, the National Association for Change headed by Mohamed El Baradei, political parties and prominent figures including Coptic Christians.

Beltagi's comments were echoed by El Baradei and another opposition officials.

"There can be dialogue but it has to come after the demands of the people are met and the first of those is that president Mubarak leaves," El Baradei told Al Arabiya television, saying the dialogue would involve transitional power arrangements.

"I hope to see Egypt peaceful and that's going to require as a first step the departure of president Mubarak. If president Mubarak leaves, then everything will progress correctly."

Mubarak has used the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, to present himself as a bastion against Islamism. He accused Islamists this week of subverting the protests, which include Egyptians from all walks of life, to provoke disorder and looting.

Government feelers

Beltagi said the government had contacted opposition groups through Sayed Badawi, head of the liberal Wafd party, but he declined to say who had been in touch.

A Brotherhood statement in the name of its leader Mohammed Badie said it did not recognise the legality of any government decisions since January 25, when the protests began.

It demanded that the judge who heads the constitutional court take over as transitional president and that an interim cabinet organise parliamentary elections. A presidential vote would follow constitutional amendments enacted by the assembly.

Senior Brotherhood figure Essam al-Erian said this would rule out talking to Omar Suleiman, who Mubarak made his deputy on Saturday.

"Even after (Mubarak goes), we refuse to deal with Omar Suleiman," he said. Beltagi said Suleiman was acceptable as someone appointed by the military to speak for them in talks.

Suleiman said on Monday he had been authorised by Mubarak to begin talks but did not give details.

Beltagi said future negotiations would involve discussions on a coalition government, a temporary president, dissolving parliament and free elections, but the timetable and framework would only come in talks once Mubarak is out.

Mustafa Naggar of El Baradei's group said the request for talks had come from Anas Fiki, the information minister, and Ahmed Shafiq, the new prime minister. He also said the offer was rejected until Mubarak gives up power.

Naggar said the talks could lead to a "board of trustees" who would be in power for three months to organise parliamentary elections and constitutional reforms.

"We demand that a board of trustees, is formed for three months. In those three months, this group will work to form an emergency transitional government for two years," he said.

"During the three months the board will introduce amendments to articles 76, 77 and 88 of the constitution to allow independents to run (for president). Also during those three months a new parliamentary election will be held."

Those articles govern how many times the president can run for office, conditions for running for president and rules on oversight of parliamentary elections.

Naggar said the "board of trustees" could include El Baradei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency chief, as well as former Nobel Prize for Chemistry winner Ahmed Zewail, Omar Suleiman and army chief-of-staff Sami Anan.

US Egyptians call on Obama to act

Egyptians around the world are watching events in their home country with interest and concern. In the United States there are 200,000 Egyptians, many of whom live in Northern Virginia and the Washington DC area.
The Khan El Khalili superstore in Falls Church, on the outskirts of Washington DC looks, sounds and even smells like a slice of Egypt in America.
Just like its namesake - the famous Khan El Khalili market in Cairo - it stocks an eclectic and vast array of gifts and artefacts.
The choice is immense - here you can buy everything from spices to stuffed camels, hookah pipes to hand mixed perfumes, incense sticks to instruments of all kinds.
Its owner Mohammed Khattab moved to America from Egypt twenty years ago.
American action
"As an Egyptian, I'm disappointed, and as an American, I'm disappointed and ashamed," he says.
Mr Khattab speaks with a heavy heart as he reflects on the current happenings in Egypt, and the response from the American administration.
He says the sentiments in Mr Obama's landmark speech in Cairo in 2009 - which called for greater democracy in the Middle East - haven't been matched by his actions.
"I was hoping, like everybody else, that he'd become strong about this.
"People believed him and were inspired by him because he is African-American," he says.
Mr Khattab is also concerned for his friends and family back in Cairo, and wishes he could be with them at this time.
His colleague Ehab Ahmed, who works as the store manager, has also been in regular contact with his loved ones back in the city.
"Everybody is afraid because of the lack of security in dowtown Cairo, there's no police presence. It's chaos, everybody is protecting themselves," he says.
Like Mr Khattab, Ehab believes it is time for President Mubarak to step down. In his place, he says he would like to see a coalition of young people, drawn from all the opposition parties to decide Egypt's future.
In the instrument section of the shop, the sound of Mahmood Hasanin playing the flute draws us over.
In between musical bursts, Mr Hasanin shares his story. He came to America in 1981 - the same year Hosni Mubarak assumed power in Egypt.
Safety concerns
He believes the US holds the key to resolving the situation there.
"America needs to make the decision well for these people," he tells me, but when pressed on what that might be, he's unsure.
"He's had a nice history for the world, he's a military man, he's had 30 years. But now he should ask the people what they want," he adds.
The Egyptian community in Virginia also includes many Coptic Christians who are worried for their relatives back home.
Akram Joseph runs the Old Cairo Grill in the town of Burke which aims to recreate the real taste of Egypt. He is intensely proud to live in America, a country he believes has the freedoms and democracy his family back in Alexandria in Egypt aren't afforded.
Over freshly made hummus, falafel, baklava and hot Egyptian tea, he shares his fears for his country.
"I'm concerned for the safety of my friends and relatives. Even though we see a lot through the news, we don't get the full picture, and communicaton can be disrupted at any minute," he explains.
Mr Joseph says he is particulary worried because his friends and family back in Egypt only recently had to deal with the tragedy of a suicide bomber blowing up a Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria on New Years Eve.
He believes both Christians and Muslims from Egypt share the same vision for a new government - "we are one community and we live together," he says.
Uncertain future
Enjoying a chicken shawarma at one of the tables at the restaurant are Adel and Ghada Bassali who are also originally from Alexandria. They both believe Mr Mubarak's time is up, but don't think he should go immediately.
"I definitely don't feel like it is a good time for him to go now," says Mr Bassali, "Somebody else would have to fill the space right now and that would be chaotic," says Mr Bassali.
He believes the best solution would be to wait until September - when elections are already scheduled - to choose a new government.
He says he fears "fanatic Islamists who could change the constitution," could take over from Mr Mubarak, and singles out his concern about the Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's largest opposition group - which supports sharia law.
His wife Ghada chips in to say that her family in Egypt think Omar Suleiman, the current Vice-President, would be a good choice.
It's impossible to guess the country's long term future - but the outcome will matter as much to those inside Egypt - as it will to the thousands who left the country for America.

Kabul Bank employees flee to Pakistan amid investigation into lending, officials say

Washington Post

KABUL - The acting chief financial officer and other Pakistani employees of Kabul Bank have fled Afghanistan amid an investigation into the scope of the bank's reckless lending and allegations that its shareholders paid large bribes to many senior Afghan officials, according to Afghan officials and others familiar with the issue.

The executive, Rana Tayyab Tahir, and his colleagues in the finance department of Afghanistan's largest and most sophisticated bank fled to Pakistan on Jan. 14, a move some said was made out of fear for their lives and possible arrest in Afghanistan.

Afghan authorities have called several bank managers, including foreigners, in for questioning and detained some in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province in connection with illicit transfers of bank funds.

Sherkhan Farnood, a world-class poker player who founded Kabul Bank and served as its chairman until his ouster in September, is now under effective house arrest, along with former chief executive Khalil Fruzi. Both are barred from leaving Afghanistan.

But other shareholders who took out million-dollar loans, including Mahmoud Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, and Haseen Fahim, the brother of Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, have been allowed to leave the country.

Tahir and his colleagues could not be reached for comment. Two bank insiders said that authorities appear to be making managers into scapegoats for the powerful shareholders who withdrew hundreds of millions from the bank for personal use.

Investigators with Afghanistan's Central Bank and the attorney general's office have begun the complicated process of unraveling the web of illicit loans to politically connected shareholders and allegations of bribery to members of Karzai's administration.

Fruzi doled out millions of dollars to cabinet members, lawmakers and other influential Afghans, according to former bank officials and investigators, as used bank money to finance Karzai's 2009 election campaign.

"Nearly everyone in the cabinet got money from the bank," said a person familiar with the investigation.

Fruzi could not be reached for comment. Farnood, reached by telephone, said he was not allowed to comment.

Several people involved in the probe say they do not believe the attorney general's office will attempt to prosecute the powerful shareholders. The investigation, they said, had been stalled by a lack of technical capacity to understand the transactions and by political pressure from President Karzai's office.

Last year, the U.S. government pressed Afghans to accept an independent forensic audit of Kabul Bank by an international accounting firm, but Karzai's government resisted. This month, Afghan finance ministry officials told Western officials that they would move forward with the forensic audit, under their control, and have begun accepting bids.

Kabul Bank's near-collapse last September prompted a Central Bank takeover and exposed a culture of back-room favors for Afghanistan's ruling elite.

In those precarious days, depositors mobbed Kabul Bank and withdrew an estimated $800 million in about two weeks, according to sources familiar with the bank. The panic prompted the Afghan government to pour $450 million into the bank's coffers to stave off collapse.

Afghan and Western officials believe the bank has now stabilized due to the financial support, but say serious risks remain for them and other banks in Afghanistan.

Kabul Bank's owners, as well as U.S. and Afghan officials, have long acknowledged the central problem: Shareholders in Kabul Bank were allowed to take out vast loans and not repay them.

The bank loaned out as much as $967 million, about 80 percent of which went to shareholders, often registered in names of relatives or associates, which they used to invest in other businesses, according to estimates from Afghan and Western officials.

"The criminals are the shareholders," said the Afghan official familiar with the investigation.

The loan figure does not necessarily represent losses at the bank, if they are repaid. But Afghan authorities have had problems collecting. Some of the shareholders have repaid small portions of the loans and agreed to payment schedules.

"The amount of recovery at this stage is very uncertain," said one Western official. "Unless you take legal action and you seize their assets, which needs to happen fast, you're not going to recover their assets."

The official added that the Afghan government's investigation is not going fast enough, and that "they should focus on the shareholders. They should extinguish their shareholdership."

"Action needs to be taken fast," the official said.

Some bank shareholders accuse Farnood of taking the largest share of the loans, nearly $470 million. But he has disputed this figure and told investigators that many loans to other people who failed to pay were registered in his name. Farnood has argued, using bank documents, that more than $300 million of this total was borrowed by others, according to a bank insider.

Since the crisis last year, the Central Bank has been struggling to regain control of assets purchased with bank money. These include at least a dozen luxury villas on Palm Jumeirah, a high-end real estate development in the Persian Gulf.

Most of the property in Dubai, where values plummeted after the 2008 financial crisis, was registered in the name of Farnood or his wife. The couple has agreed to transfer the property to Kabul Bank, but legal complications in Dubai have so far prevented this from happening.

The bank's shareholders are arguing bitterly over responsibility for off-the-book lending and other unorthodox practices. Mahmoud Karzai, a 7 percent shareholder in Kabul Bank, has blamed Farnood.

"He is the center of all the misconduct. He fooled the shareholders and fooled the Central Bank," Mahmoud Karzai said.

Like most other shareholders, Karzai did not pay for his shares but obtained them with money borrowed from the bank.

A particularly sensitive area of investigation are the links between Kabul Bank and a state-owned commercial bank, Bank-e-Millie Afghan. Kabul Bank, for example, allegedly made several secret payments to the state bank's executives, according to one Kabul Bank insider. The payments, the insider said, were recorded as reimbursement for overcharging on cash transfers through Shaheen Exchange, a currency transfer outfit set up by Farnood and affiliated with Kabul Bank.

Bank-e-Millie's president and chief executive, Khan Afzal Hadawal, denied in an interview that his bank received any illicit payments. He acknowledged that his bank-suffering from a poor rating in 2009 that prevented it from lending-had deposited about $22 million in Kabul Bank as an investment and received an interest payment of 13 percent.

Documents obtained by investigators show Kabul Bank paid a higher interest rate--16.25 percent-which some officials view as a sign of malfeasance.

"These people are committing betrayal of the public treasury and we have to disclose it," said the Afghan official familiar with the investigation.

But bank insiders describe this higher rate as the extra amount intended to cover tax withholdings for the Afghan government, and said the net interest remained 13 percent as contractually agreed.

John Kerry says Mubarak should step aside

Leading US Democratic senator John Kerry has urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to pledge neither he nor his son will stand in this year's presidential election.

Mr Kerry, writing in the New York Times, said Mr Mubarak had to accept Egypt's stability "hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully".

He is the highest-level US politician to push for Mr Mubarak to stand down.

Mr Kerry also said the United States "must look beyond the Mubarak era".

The BBC's Paul Adams, in Washington, says Mr Kerry is an influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is close to the White House so his views carry weight

'Beyond his regime'
Mr Kerry said Mr Mubarak's declared intention to hold fair elections was insufficient.

"The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year," he wrote, referring to Gamal Mubarak.

"Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation."

He called on the US to offer "real assistance" to the Egyptian people, noting most US aid to Egypt goes to the military.

"The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked 'made in America' fired at protesters, US-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo," he wrote. "Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt."

Diplomat to Cairo
The White House has publicly trodden a more cautious line on the Egyptian turmoil.

BBC North America Mark Mardell says that while the White House continues to insist it is not the job of the US government to pick leaders, the strong view in Washington is that it wants Mubarak to go, and the army to take over until elections can be held - but President Obama believes its counter productive to say so in public.

A US state department spokesman on Monday declined to say Mr Mubarak should not stand for re-election, declaring "these are decisions to be made inside Egypt".

Meanwhile, the US on Monday despatched to Cairo a veteran diplomat with close ties to the Mubarak government.

Frank Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt, had arrived in Cairo and was to meet with Egyptian government officials.

In Tahrir Square, 'we talk today as Egyptians'

Cairo's 'march of a million'

Anti-government protesters plan to march on the presidential palace.

Anti-government protesters in Egypt say they will march from Cairo's Tahrir Square toward the presidential palace. Some have even threatened to storm it.

State television has been broadcasting messages urging people to stay at home as trains heading to Cairo have been stopped, but an estimated 100,000 people have defied authorities' attempts to disturb the rally.

In the square, some have hung an effigy of President Hosni Mubarak from a lamp post.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reports.

Jordan's king fires Cabinet amid protests

Jordan's King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet, ordering him to launch immediate political reforms.
The dismissal follows several large protests across Jordan_ inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt — calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.
A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah accepted Rifai's resignation tendered earlier Tuesday.
The king named Marouf al-Bakhit as his prime minister-designate, instructing him to "undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernization and development in Jordan," the palace statement said.
Al-Bakhit previously served as Jordan's premier from 2005-2007.
The king also stressed that economic reform was a "necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making."
He asked al-Bakhit for a "comprehensive assessment ... to correct the mistakes of the past." He did not elaborate. The statement said Abdullah also demanded an "immediate revision" of laws governing politics and public freedoms.
When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
But little has been done since. Although laws were enacted to ensure greater press freedom, journalists are still prosecuted for expressing their opinion or for comments considered slanderous of the king and the royal family.
Some gains been made in women's rights, but many say they have not gone far enough. Abdullah has pressed for stiffer penalties for perpetrators of "honor killings," but courts often hand down lenient sentences.
Still, Jordan's human rights record is generally considered a notch above that of Tunisia and Egypt. Although some critics of the king are prosecuted, they frequently are pardoned and some are even rewarded with government posts.
It was not immediately clear when al-Bakhit will name his Cabinet.
Al-Bakhit is a moderate politician, who served as Jordan's ambassador to Israel earlier this decade.
He holds similar views to Abdullah in keeping close ties with Israel under a peace treaty signed in 1994 and strong relations with the United States, Jordan's largest aid donor and longtime ally.
In 2005, Abdullah named al-Bakhit as his prime minister days after a triple bombing on Amman hotels claimed by the al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
During his 2005-2007 tenure, al-Bakhit — an ex-army major general and top intelligence adviser — was credited with maintaining security and stability following the attack, which killed 60 people and labeled as the worst in Jordan's modern history.

Jubilant crowds flood Cairo, escalating protests

More than a quarter-million people flooded Cairo's main square Tuesday in a stunning and jubilant array of young and old, urban poor and middle class professionals, mounting by far the largest protest yet in a week of unrelenting demands for President Hosni Mubarak to leave after nearly 30 years in power.

Mitt Romney calls for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down

Mitt Romney became, on Tuesday, the first of the potential 2012 GOP presidential contenders to call for the exit of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," Romney said although President Obama should not publicly support Mubarak's removal, the time for it had come.

"I don't know that I would say to the president, 'You should call for Mubarak's resignation,' " Romney said. "That, I think, flies in the face of a long history of friendship between he and our country and our friends, but it is very clear that [Mubarak] needs to move on and transition to the voices of democracy."

Romney largely praised the administration's response to the crisis, aligning himself with Republican leaders in Congress who favor a unified approach to the unrest in Egypt. Other potential candidates, such as Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, have been more alarmist, warning that Mubarak's departure could lead to a takeover of the nation's government by the Muslim Brotherhood, a political group that claims its goals are secular but whom some critics view as Islamic radicals.

Sounding more and more like a candidate each day, Romney also offered up a full-throated defense of the healthcare law he helped craft while he was governor of Massachusetts. That law served as a template for the sweeping overhaul passed by Congress last year. A federal judge in Florida on Monday ruled the entire law was unconstitutional because of its mandate that Americans buy health insurance -- and the legislation is likely to be debated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I'm not apologizing for it," he said, "I'm indicating that we went in one direction, and there are other possible directions. I'd like to see states pursue their own ideas, see which ideas work best."

Romney's detractors have maintained that his ties to healthcare reform could be a handicap in primaries that skew toward the "tea party," but he said the Massachusetts law was an example of the supremacy of states' rights.

"That was the whole idea of our federal democracy; we'd have people be able to try different ideas state to state, but what we did not do was say that the federal government can make its choice and impose it on all of the states," he said. "That is one of the reasons why this bill is unconstitutional."

He also called on Obama to suspend implementation of the healthcare law while its legality remained an issue.

Although Romney has kept a lower profile than other potential presidential entrants, such as Huckabee and Sarah Palin, Tuesday's interview was part of an aggressive media agenda tied to the release of his book "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."

Romney will appear on ABC's "The View" later Tuesday morning and will be interviewed on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" in the evening.

The presidential race grew more tantalizing Monday with the resignation of Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China. If he enters the fray, the former Utah governor could compete for many of the moderate and upper-income Republican voters that Romney is expected to court.

Hosni Mubarak must go

Turkey PM calls on Mubarak to listen to demands of his people

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should listen to the demands of his people, on Tuesday, in an address to his Islamic-oriented AK party in Parliament.

Erdogan's comments came on the cusp of the much anticipated "million man march", a protest due to take place later in the day Tuesday in Cairo's Tahrir Square to mark a week of anti-government demonstrations in Egypt.Demonstrations and violent riots have continued in Egypt for seven straight days, with protesters refusing to leave the streets until Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leaves the government.

"Listen to people's outcries and extremely humanistic demands," Erdogan said in the televised address to members of the ruling AK Party. "Meet the freedom demands of people without a doubt."

Erdogan, whose country is often held up as a model for democracy in Muslim nations, went on to say the solution to political problems lay in the ballot box.

Turkey's diplomatic clout in the Middle East has risen in the past few years, as its past friendship with Israel has dwindled, particularly after Israeli naval commanders boarded the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Turkish-sponsored Gaza-bound aid flotilla, on May 31, 2010. The activists on board the boat resisted, and nine people were killed.

Last month, Turkey rejected Israel's probe into the incident, led by the Turkel Commission, that concluded that the IDF soldiers acted in self-defense when they killed nine Turkish citizens on board the ship.

According to Erdogan, the report had "no value or credibility" and that Turkey's own panel of inquiry had concluded that Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and its raid on the Turkish-led Gaza flotilla were in violation of international law.

Giant protest kicks off in Egypt

More than hundred thousand assemble in Cairo for the "million-man-march" aimed at forcing president Mubarak to resign.

More than 100,000 protesters have gathered for a planned "march of a million" in the Egyptian capital, calling for Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, to step down.

Meanwhile, one of Egypt's oldest parties, Wafd, announced on Tuesday that a number of opposition groups have agreed to form "a national front" to deal with the volatile situation there. In a statement, Wafd said that president Mubarak "has lost legitimacy."

Also on Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood, an officially banned but tolerated movement, said it will not negotiate with president Mubarak or his government.

Earlier, some opposition parties have called for Mubarak to delegate responsibilities to newly appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman, who they are prepared to negotiate with.Thousands of demonstrators began gathering from early on Tuesday morning in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which has been the focal point of protests in the capital and served as the meeting area for the march to begin on the eighth day of an uprising that has so far claimed more than 125 lives.

Another "million-strong" march is planned in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national train services were cancelled in an apparent bid to stymie protests. Protest organisers have also called for an indefinite strike to be observed across the country.Soldiers at Tahrir Square have formed a human chain around protesters, and are checking people as they enter for weapons. Tanks have been positioned near the square, and officers have been checking identity papers.An Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo said that there were reports that "thugs in certain parts of the city have been trying to stop people from driving into Cairo".She said that "increasingly large pockets of pro-government protests" are also taking place at various locations in the city. There are fears that if the two sets of protesters meet, a violent clash could erupt.

Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist who planned to attend the rally, told Al Jazeera the protesters will not be satisfied until Mubarak steps down.

"I think today there will be great numbers on the street ... every day there are more numbers on the street than the day before. I think the protests are gaining momentum. The people ... will literally not leave until Mubarak steps down," she said.In an attempt to discourage people from the protests, Egyptian state television has asked people to stay at home, warning of possible violence.

An Al Jazeera online producer in Cairo said that if today's protest does not go as planned, similar protests could be planned for Friday.

The new protests come as the police have returned to the streets.

But while the police's posture to be adopted in the face of the strike and marches remains unknown, the Egyptian army stated clearly on Monday that it would not stop protests

Faced with the prospect of massive numbers trying to converge on the capital, Egyptian authorities stopped all train traffic with immediate effect on Monday afternoon, and the state-owned national carrier EgyptAir said it was cancelling all international and domestic flights during curfew hours (3.00pm to 8.00am local time).