US in talks with senior Egyptians over crisis

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The Independent Online

Talks are under way between the Obama administration and senior Egyptian officials on the possible immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the formation of a military-backed caretaker government, US officials said.

It is hoped the discussions could prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year.

With protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities expected to grow in size and intensity today, the administration fears they may erupt into more widespread violence unless the government takes tangible steps to address the protesters' main demand that Mr Mubarak leave office quickly.

Creation of an interim government is one of several possibilities under discussion.

The officials stressed that the US is not seeking to impose a solution on Egypt but said the administration had made a judgment that Mr Mubarak has to go soon if there is to be a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

"The president has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

"We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people."

White House and State Department officials would not discuss details of the discussions. Vice president Joe Biden spoke with his Egyptian counterpart Omar Suleiman a day after a similar conversation between Mr Suleiman and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Officials said neither Mr Biden nor Ms Clinton made a specific call for Mr Mubarak to resign immediately but pressed for measures that would ease tensions on the streets and set the stage for democratic elections.

An administration official said there is no single plan being discussed with the Egyptians. Rather, the administration is pursuing different ideas with Egyptian figures on how to proceed quickly with a process that includes a broad range of voices and leads to free and fair elections.

Among those options is a proposal for Mr Mubarak to resign immediately - which the embattled president has refused to do - and for him to cede power to a transitional government run by Mr Suleiman.

But the official rejected the notion that the White House was trying to impose that idea and said it was not at all clear it would happen.

The US yesterday severely criticised what it called systematic attacks on journalists in Egypt and said they appeared to be an attempt to shut out reporting of even bigger anti-government demonstrations to come.

Ms Clinton condemned "in the strongest terms" the pro-government mobs that beat, threatened and intimidated reporters in Cairo.

Attacks as well on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners and diplomats were "unacceptable under any circumstances", she said.

She pointed the finger at Mr Mubarak's government without explicitly blaming the 82-year-old president for the violence.