Egyptian army to hold fire as protests swell

Updated: 2011-02-02 08:25

By Samia Nakhoul and Sherine El Madany (China Daily)

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CAIRO - The Egyptian army promised to hold their fire as crowds gathered in central Cairo on Tuesday for a protest they hoped would swell to a million people.

President Hosni Mubarak's newly appointed vice-president, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, began talks with opposition figures on Monday and promised reforms. The army also declared the protesters demands legitimate.

But protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who kept vigil through the night in defiance of a curfew, vowed to continue their campaign until the 82-year-old Mubarak quit.

"The only thing we will accept from him is that he gets on a plane and leaves," said 45-year-old lawyer Ahmed Helmi.

Protesters, inspired in part by a revolt in Tunisia which toppled its president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Jan 14, have demanded an end to the current political rule.

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has offered to act as a transitional leader to prepare Egypt for elections. Many Egyptians, however, have said they had reservations about a man who has spent much of his recent career outside the country.

Suleiman appeared on state television on Monday to say Mubarak had asked him to begin talks with all political forces on reforms. Some saw his appearance - rather than that of the president - as a sign Mubarak was already on his way out.

At least 140 people have died since demonstrations began last Tuesday.

In Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, thousands of people gathered near the main railway station, many with food and blankets, saying they would join Tuesday's "march of a million".

Officials said rail services would be disrupted on Tuesday by curfew orders, which may keep some people away from protests.

Foreign governments, meanwhile, scrambled to ensure the safety of their nationals trapped by the unrest in Egypt. Companies also pulled out staff as confrontation brought economic life to a halt.

Chinese Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the nation's aviation authority, said Tuesday it is doing its best to organize flights to Egypt to bring home Chinese travelers stranded in the North African nation.

China has arranged six flights to fly the stranded Chinese nationals home, CAAC said in a statement on its website.

Two planes carrying a total of 480 Chinese nationals arrived at Beijing and south China's Guangzhou city Tuesday afternoon.

Two more planes - one belonging to China Southern Airlines and the other to Hainan Airlines - will leave for Egypt also on Tuesday afternoon.

The Southern Airlines flight will bring back about 200 Hong Kong residents stranded in Luxor. The Hainan Airlines flight will fly to Cairo to bring Chinese travellers stranded there home.

"We will do our best and if necessary send more flights to Egypt to bring stranded Chinese home for the Chinese Lunar New Year," the statement quoted CAAC director Li Jiaxiang as saying.

The unrest has spooked markets on fears it could spread across the Middle East, including to oil producing states like Saudi Arabia. Europe's benchmark Brent crude oil rose above $100 a barrel for the first time since 2008 on Monday.


(China Daily 02/02/2011 page4)


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