Egypt remains tense; sabotage adds new dimension to unrest
Uncertainty and tension gripped Egypt on Saturday with international clamour growing on beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak to hand over power immediately as saboteurs blew up a key gas pipeline to Israel adding a fresh dimension to the 12-day old crisis in the Arab nation.world Updated: Feb 05, 2011 19:06 IST
Uncertainty and tension gripped Egypt on Saturday with international clamour growing on beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak to hand over power immediately as saboteurs blew up a key gas pipeline to Israel adding a fresh dimension to the 12-day old crisis in the Arab nation.
As unprecedented protests raged at the famous Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the state TV reported "dangerous explosions continuing from one spot to another" in the main source of gas supplying pipeline in El Arish.
The attackers used explosives to blow up the 240km-long pipeline in the town of Lihfen in northern Sinai near the Gaza Strip and the army shut down the gas supplies to Israel and Jordan, Egyptian officials said.
"It's big terrorist operation," the state-tv quoted an official as saying, who blamed the attack on "foreign elements."
The attack on the pipeline came after Israel, which receives 40% of its gas demand from Egypt, expressed concern that the supplies could be threatened if a new regime takes over in Cairo.
The attack happened as tens of thousands of people held demonstrations against Mubarak with no sign of an end to confrontation which has pitted the 82-year-old leader against the anti-government protesters.
With no let up in protests fury, President Mubarak, who appeared increasingly cornered, held a meeting of his new cabinet to revive the economy and project calm in the face of the increasing turmoil.
The meeting was attended by Egypt's new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq as well as the central bank governor and the ministers of petroleum, social solidarity, trade and industry, and finance.
Finance minister Samir Radwan announced that the banks and stock market will reopen by Monday as he termed the economic situation in the country as "very serious". Government analyst claim that the uprising is costing the country at least USD 310 million a day.
The President appears to have dug in his heels with the prime minister announcing that Mubarak had no intention to quit or transfer power to his deputy Omar Suleiman as being suggested by the country's major allies like US.
The state-tv reported that Mubarak's meeting took place on Saturday morning in the presidential palace Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb miles away from Tahrir Square.
Massive protests were also witnessed in other major Egyptian cities, including Alexandria and Suez, demanding an end to Mubarak's 30-year rule.
To pace themselves, the protest leaders declared that while the sit-in would continue at Tahrir Square daily, the massive rallies would be held on Tuesdays and Fridays.
With Mubarak clinging to power, US President Barack Obama on Saturday delivered a clear hint to him to step down by listening to his people and make the "right decision".
"We want to see this moment of turmoil turned into a moment of opportunity," Obama said in Washington as US officials indicated that the administration has made a judgement that Mubarak has to go soon, if the crisis has to end peacefully.
The administration hopes that Mubarak and opposition leaders will begin to draw the contours of a multi-step transition, including the immediate suspension of emergency laws and establishment of a roadmap for constitutional change and free and fair elections, US media reported.
EU leaders, at a summit in Brussels of the 27-nation bloc, said Egypt's "transition process must start now" and condemned this week's violence.
Intensifying their efforts for an immediate axing of Mubarak, Egyptian opposition leader Mohammad ElBaradai said he intends to negotiate with the army's senior commanders over a peaceful political transition.
"I would like to discuss with the army chiefs, preferably soon, to study how we can achieve a transition without bloodshed," ElBaradai told the German weekly Der Spiegel.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the major force behind the protests, has also expressed readiness to discuss transition but said it could come only after Mubarak made an exit.
Meanwhile, Fox News reported that a failed assassination bid against newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman has left two of his bodyguards dead.
"Such an attempt on the life of Omar Suleiman would mark an alarming turn in the uprising against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, who only recently named Suleiman as Vice President in an effort to quell the unrest and possibly line up a successor," it said, without giving details.
An Egyptian journalist died on Friday of gunshot wounds he received during violent clashes between pro-and anti-Mubarak demonstrators.
Ahmed Mohammed Mahmud of Al-Taawun newspaper published by the state-owned Al-Ahram foundation, who was in coma for four days, has died, local media reported. Mahmud was shot by sniper fire when he was taking pictures from his flat near Tahrir Square.
Massive crowds on Friday thronged the Tahrir Square, the hub of unrelenting protests against Mubarak that have claimed over 300 lives in 12 days, for a "day of departure" rally against him.