By Nangayi Guyson – The United States has urged Egypt to immediately lift an emergency law and launch democratic reforms as protesters staged the biggest show of defiance against President Hosni Mubarak in a three-week-old revolt.
Vice-President Joe Biden made the call during a telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart Omar Suleiman.
However, Mubarak’s newly appointed deputy, Vice President Omar Suleiman, warned that hasty reforms could spell “chaos” in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Separately, President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said Mr Suleiman’s remarks about Egypt not being ready for democracy were “particularly unhelpful”.
The focus now seems not to be on President Mubarak and his future but on what the White House calls “concrete reforms”, our North America editor says.
So far the administration’s repeated suggestions over the last week have been met largely by grudging commitments from the Egyptian authorities and little action, he adds.
As the protests entered their third week, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the latest protest. Initial attempts by the army to check the identity cards of those joining the demonstration were quickly abandoned because of the sheer weight of numbers.
“I’m not a hero, you are the heroes”
In Cairo, one of the biggest anti-government rallies since the protests began on 25 January was seen at the iconic Tahrir Square, hailing a charismatic cyber activist and Google executive whose Facebook site helped kick-start the unprecedented protests.
Many carried banners praising the internet social networks Facebook and Twitter, which have become vital mobilising tools for the opposition, thanks to online campaigners like the Google executive, Wael Ghonim.
Ghonim, who was freed after being detained and blindfolded for 12 days, told an adoring crowd: “Egyptians deserve a better life”.
“Today one of those dreams has actually come true, which is actually putting all of us together and as one hand believing in something.”I’m not a hero, you are the heroes, you’re the ones who stayed on this square,” said Ghonim, who on Monday had tearfully described his ordeal at the hands of state security.
Earlier, the regime had issued a decree forming a committee to oversee constitutional changes ahead of elections due in September.
Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years, says he will not stand for re-election and on Monday pledged to raise public-sector wages by 15%.
But many protestors, rate at mass unemployment, raging inflation and repression under Mubarak, are demanding the 82-year-old strongman’s immediate departure.
The unrest over the last two weeks has seen fierce clashes with police, and pitched battles between protesters and Mubarak supporters.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers say they have confirmed the deaths of 297 people since 28 January, based on a count from eight hospitals in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. No comprehensive death toll has been given by the Egyptian government.