Obama warns of difficult days ahead for Egypt

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The Independent Online

US President Barack Obama has said Hosni Mubarak's resignation is the beginning, not the end, of the transition to democracy in Egypt.

Speaking just hours after Mubarak relinquished the presidency, Obama said the long-time Egyptian leader responded to his people's hunger for change. But he warned that there will still be difficult days ahead for Egypt as it works toward free and fair elections.

Mubarak's three decades of authoritarian rule ended today when he handed power to the Egyptian military following 18 days of protests calling for his ouster.

The president said the Egyptian military had served patriotically and responsibly and now must ensure a transition that is credible to the Egyptian people.

Mr Obama said the military, in power in the wake of President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, must lay out a clear path toward fair elections.

Mubarak's resignation was announced earlier Friday, the denouement to more than two weeks of massive protests across Egypt.

Mr Obama said Mubarak's resignation and the military's decision to step into the void raises questions that he said Egyptians will be sure to answer.

He said the military must end the state of emergency that Mubarak imposed and protect the rights of citizens.

Mr Obama said: "The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard. And Egypt will never be the same," he declared.

In brief remarks at the White House, the president noted that it was "not the end of Egypt's transition, it's the beginning". He said that many important questions remain to be resolved and difficult times lie ahead.

"I'm confident the people of Egypt can find the answers," Mr Obama said. He spoke hours after Mubarak stepped aside, turning authority over to the military. It was a turnaround from the night before, when the Egyptian leader defiantly refused to give up his title.

Mr Obama added: "Egyptians have inspired us, and they've done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained by violence.

"For Egypt, it was the moral force of non-violence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but non-violence, moral force, that bent the arc of history toward justice once more."

Mr Obama singled out the military for praise, saying it helpfully as a "caretaker" in defusing the situation and securing the country.

"We saw a military who would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect," he said. But, he added a note of warning. The military, he said, will have to "ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people".

He said that means lifting Egypt's hated 30-year-old police powers laws, revising the constitution and enacting other safeguards to "make this change irreversible" and set the path for free and fair elections.

Mr Obama began his remarks by noting that "President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people's hunger for change." That was the only time he mentioned the resigned president.

Mr Obama said he is confident that a democratic Egypt can assert its role as an influential player in the Middle East and beyond.