Middle East

Egypt protests: US steps up pressure on Cairo

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC's Jon Leyne reports from the protests outside parliament

The US administration has stepped up its criticism of Egypt's leadership after a 16th consecutive day of protests against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said they had yet to take the "necessary steps" the country's people needed to see.

Wednesday saw protests in the capital Cairo spread to the parliament.

There are reports of widespread industrial action, and of protests outside Cairo turning violent.

The Egyptian government has announced plans for a peaceful transition which see President Mubarak staying in office until elections in September, but opposition groups fear the government is stalling for time and will fail to enact meaningful changes.

Mr Gibbs said: "The government has not taken the necessary steps that the people of Egypt need to see. That's why more and more people come out to register their grievances.

"If there's some notion on the government side that you can put the genie back in this bottle, I think that's gone a long time ago."

He added that the US was reviewing its aid programme to Egypt, and the government's restraint and reform would determine "what that aid will look like".

His remarks follow Tuesday's call by US Vice-President Joe Biden for the Egyptian government to lift its longstanding state of emergency, and to stop harassing journalists and activists.

The BBC's North America editor, Mark Mardell, says the Obama administration is clearly ratcheting up the pressure.

However, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has welcomed the White House's current approach, while warning against attempts to impose its will on his government.

"The first four, five days it was [a] confusing message and I was, I was often angry infuriated," he told US broadcaster PBS.

"But through discussions with the administration, I think now we have an administration that understands exactly the difficulties of the situation and the dangers and the risks that are entailed in a rush towards chaos without end. So the administration's message now is much better."

Violence

In Cairo, soldiers are guarding the People's Assembly after access to the building was blocked by demonstrators.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in the Egyptian capital, says the protesters regard the People's Assembly as illegitimate following general elections late last year which were widely regarded as rigged in favour of President Mubarak's ruling party, which won a massive majority.

Nearby Tahrir Square remains the focal point of protests calling for an end to President Mubarak's 30-year rule, with thousands of demonstrators present on a daily basis, some camping there overnight.

The Associated Press (AP) news agency reports that the capital also saw protests by state electricity workers and museum workers on Wednesday. However, Egypt's most famous tourist attraction, the Pyramids of Giza, reopened to tourists.

Outside Cairo:

  • At least four people have been killed during rioting in the south-western New Valley province, with reports that police opened fire on demonstrators with live ammunition
  • AP reports that 8,000 protesters in the southern province of Assiut blocked the main highway and railway to Cairo with burning palm trees
  • In Port Said, hundreds of protesters set fire to the governorate building
  • At the Suez Canal, the state-owned trade link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, about 6,000 state workers have gone on strike - but the action is not affecting the passage of ships

Late on Tuesday night, Vice President Omar Suleiman said the crisis must end, adding: "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."

He warned that if dialogue with the protesters failed, the alternative was "that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities".

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.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites