[UPDATE] Obama Comments on Growing Protests in Egypt

By: CBS/Associated Press
By: CBS/Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) 1-29 4:00 PM --

President Barack Obama is calling for restraint in Egypt and renewing his support for universal rights and concrete steps that lead to political reform.

Obama met with national security advisers for an hour Saturday afternoon to review the fast changing developments in Egypt. The White House offered no reaction from the president to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to name a long-time confidant as vice president.

Participants in the meeting with the president included Vice President Joe Biden, national security adviser Tom Donilon, chief of staff William Daley, press secretary Robert Gibbs and senior adviser David Plouffe.

The meeting came after a broader session in the morning that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA director Leon Panetta.

CAIRO - For the fifth straight day, protesters have taken to the streets of Cairo as President Hosni Mubarak refuses to step down and end his 30-year rule.

Reporting from Cairo, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer said the streets have been filling with thousands and thousands of people, coming from all directions and marching freely - in marked contrast to the scenes witnessed yesterday, when running battles between protesters and Egyptian police carried on late into the night.

The death toll since the largest anti-government protests in decades began Tuesday rose to 45, according to medical and security officials, 38 of them killed since Friday. Some 2,000 injuries have been reported.

Dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers were fanned out across the city of 18 million, guarding key government building a day after large, violent confrontations emboldened the movement demanding a change of leadership. There was rampant looting across the sprawling city of 18 million and a growing feeling of fear and insecurity.

In the city's main Tahrir Square, at the center of Saturday's massive demonstration, there was only a light military presence - a few tanks - and soldiers are not intervening. Few police were seen in the crowds and the protest began peacefully but then police opened fire on some people in the crowd near the Interior Ministry and a number of them were wounded by gunshots. It was not clear whether they used rubber bullets or live ammunition.

One army captain joined the demonstrators, who hoisted him on their shoulders while chanting slogans against Mubarak. The officer ripped a picture of the president.

"We don't want him! We will go after him!" demonstrators shouted. They decried looting and sabotage, saying: "Those who love Egypt should not sabotage Egypt!"

In other developments, Egyptian state television said the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif has resigned on the president's orders. President Mubarak told the nation in a televised address shortly after midnight that he had decided the sack the Cabinet.

The protests are the most serious challenge to Mubarak's rule since he came to office nearly 30 years ago, but the 82-year-old leader made no mention in his address of the calls for him to step down.

Palmer said today phone service - which had been cut in anticipation of Friday's protests - have been restored here, but the quality is not very good.

Yesterday demonstrators fought back against volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets, and at last broke through police lines, flowing into the city's central Freedom Square.

Egyptians went to sleep having seen (and on a huge scale taken part in) an historic event, says Palmer. Many dared hope the president would be forced to resign. But after midnight, when Hosni Mubarak finally addressed the nation, it became clear he wasn't going anywhere. But he was, he conceded, going to fire the cabinet.

At almost the same time, the army rolled into the streets. People woke up to find soldiers manning checkpoints across the city, and tanks parked at strategic points.

So far, the crowds haven't been hostile to the military, which doesn't have the same reputation for brutality and corruption as the police.

The crowds are building up again today. The demonstrators still want to see the end of Mubarak, and they don't believe the vague promises he made in his speech about creating jobs and giving Egyptians more democracy.

While the world's attention has been focused on Cairo, similar demonstrations are taking place all over Egypt. In Suez, about two hours away, the violent unrest is now in its fifth day, and at least 12 people have been killed.

The people are wondering who is in charge here, and it's not clear. Palmer says everyone is waiting for a sign from the army, on whether they will support President Mubarak in his bid to stay in power, or whether they're going to send a message to him that he's too much of a liability - if he stays, the country descends into chaos - and so engineer his departure. If they impose some kind of stability, it could in fact amount to a military coup.

Foreign tourists and Egyptians flocked to Cairo's main airport on Saturday, scrambling to find flights out of the country. Between 1,500 and 2,000 travelers were at the airport's two main departure terminals, most without reservations and frantic to find any available seats of outbound flights.

Some European and U.S. airlines began announcing cancellations or suspensions of service to Cairo, and Egypt's national carrier was said to be experiencing lengthy delays.

The U.S. State Department is urging Americans with plans to travel to Egypt to stay home.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports that President Barack Obama is monitoring the situation in Egypt very closely.

Mr. Obama had a 30-minute phone conversation with President Mubarak, then came before the cameras at the White House and urged Mubarak to stop the violence.

"The people of Egypt have rights that are universal," he said. "That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association."

The president is walking a fine line, said Reid, between supporting Egypt's citizenry protesting the 30-year regime of their president, and not abandoning a current and key ally in the Middle East.

The president stressed the importance of listening to the people and called for the immediate restoration of access to the Internet and social media. At the same time he cautioned protesters to avoid violence.

"Destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek," he said.

The White House is preparing for all possible scenarios, and reviewing Egypt's $1.5 billion aid package. While the president isn't calling on Mubarak to step down, he is urging him to make good on his promise of reform.

Former State Department spokesperson Jamie Rubin, now executive editor of Bloomberg View, said on CBS' "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" that the White House is in an extremely difficult situation.

"I think they're struggling, really - they're afraid of either, on the one hand, being on the wrong side of history, supporting Mubarak too long, and seeing the people rise up and change the country without the United States' support. On the other hand, they are concerned that if they give up on Mubarak too quickly, and he ends up surviving in a, perhaps a bloody crackdown, he won't forget any time soon that at the time of trouble the United States didn't support him.

"For example, today the Saudi Arabian king announced his support for Mubarak. Clearly the group of leaders, the coterie of kings and autocrats and rulers in that part of the world, get a little nervous when one of them falls," said Rubin.

Rubin said the White House is also very worried that the unrest may jeopardize the Middle East peace process. "The Israeli/Palestinian peace process, that peace between Israel and Egypt, Israel and Jordan, our relationship with Israel - that that is at risk," he said. "Because the opposition to Mubarak, certainly the known opposition, Islamic Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood, would be less supportive of that peace process. They also know that in their coalition against Iran, they're trying to build to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Mubarak has been a strong ally in that. So they're worried, what would come next?

Rubin also referred to the 2009 demonstrations in Iran. "There were demonstrations on the street, and Ahmadinejad, the president there, cracked down. President Obama kind of got caught on the wrong side of that. He never really demonstrated American support for the people on the ground.

"They don't want to make that mistake again," said Rubin. "And that's why I think you're seeing him ramp up the rhetoric and put more and more pressure on Mubarak."

The protests in Egypt rattled Wall Street Friday. After eight straight weeks of gains the Dow plunged 166 points, while the price of oil soared.

On CBS' "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," Michael Pantoli, associate editor of Barron's, said oil prices should not be affected by the current unrest unless the situation spreads far beyond Egypt.

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  • by Georgia Boy Location: Cairo on Feb 4, 2011 at 04:16 AM
    Talk about speaking from both sides of your mouth, here is Obama telling Mubarak he should listen to the people, yet while he had a majority in the House and Senate forced bills the people strongly opposed into law. Where was "listen to the people" then? Now why would Mubarak or anyone else believe there is an ounce of sincerity in the man?
  • by To Human and Yep on Jan 31, 2011 at 01:20 PM
    Why is Obama telling Egypt what to do? It is not our problem? I tend to agree with you. But know what? That is exactly how we treated Iraq and have been stuck there for years with no end. Saddam Hussein was their problem and it was not up to the USA to tell them how to live. Don't give me he supported terrorists. Bush later admitted that was bad info.
  • by tom Location: madison on Jan 30, 2011 at 08:57 AM
    You mean he cannot just give a speech and everything will get better????? That's apparently what most people in this country think.
  • by yep Location: tally on Jan 30, 2011 at 07:16 AM
    It's not our problem!
  • by Surprise Location: leon county on Jan 30, 2011 at 04:26 AM
    The Soooul Man aka Barry OBammer and his 4th. Estate has confused We the people on who to root for as it apears who ever? they wont to side with the winner what ever regime it turns out to be? right or wrong has nothing to do with it or them bummer. "Drill Baby Drill."
  • by Human on Jan 29, 2011 at 03:38 PM
    Why the heck is Nobama telling another country what to do??? He doesn't even listen to the people in his own country. What a sorry world we are forced to live in by a few greedy humans!!
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