Saturday, January 29, 2011
World leaders voiced mounting fears as thousands of protesters clashed with troops in Egypt Friday, calling for restraint on all sides and urging Egyptian leaders to heed the cries for reform.
“We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
“At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully,” Clinton added, amid warnings that the United States may review its aid policy to Egypt.
“We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events that take place in the coming days,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. Egypt is one of the top recipients of U.S. aid.
The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama received a 40-minute briefing about the events in Egypt Friday. No call with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was scheduled, a spokesman said.
Washington has struggled to formulate a response to the rapidly evolving crisis.
But in its toughest comments yet since the start of the crisis in one of its top Middle Eastern allies, the United States also rebuked Egyptian leaders for their crackdown on dissent.
“We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications,” Clinton said.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron added his voice to the calls for reform Friday, after his Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a warning of a “great danger of violence” due to the huge numbers of people on the street.
“What we need is reform in Egypt,” Cameron told CNN television. “I mean we support reform and progress in the greater strengthening of their democracy and civil rights and the rule of law. Clearly there are grievances that people have and they need to be met and matched.”
France also voiced concern.
“Only dialogue among all the parties” can improve matters, said France’s foreign minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, adding that such talks must “take into account aspirations that are being expressed for more liberty and democracy.
In the face of such unprecedented demonstrations against his rule, Mubarak called out the army Friday as tens of thousands – inspired by the Tunisian uprising that drove Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power earlier this month – took to the streets demanding once again he should quit.
But a top U.S. general urged the Egyptian military to show restraint.
General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters “the key activity here I think that’s really important is to exercise restraint and to do so both on our part, but also on the part of our counterparts in the Egyptian military.”
The top U.S. general also said that the Egyptian Army’s chief of staff would depart Washington Friday, cutting short a planned week-long visit originally scheduled to last through next Wednesday.
In Davos, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said: “Freedom of expression and association should be fully respected.”
Eyeing a tide of unrest, which also saw protests erupt on the streets of Yemen Thursday, Ban appealed to Arab governments to take note.
“What I have been saying repeatedly is that first of all, all concerned people or leaders should ensure that the situation in that region, particularly now in Egypt, does not and should not lead to further violence,” he said.
EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton meanwhile urged Egyptian authorities to immediately release those protesters held in the protests. “The continued use of force against demonstrators by police and state security forces is deeply troubling.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Davos to attend meetings of the World Economic Forum, urged Egypt to allow peaceful protest and freedom of expression. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor Guttenberg said he was concerned about the risk of a “infectious momentum” developing as unrest spread in the Middle East. Russia and the U.S. urged citizens to avoid travel to Egypt, while several international airlines temporarily halted service to Cairo and EgyptAir suspended all outgoing flights from the capital. – Agencies