Obama cautions ally against violence

Addressing the nation from the White House after a day of rage across Egypt, Obama said he called Mubarak and told him “to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and to turn a “moment of volatility” into a “moment of promise.” Declaring that the protesters have universal rights, he said: “The US will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people.”

Obama’s brief remarks came as a blunt reply to Mubarak, who spoke to his own people just one hour before and mixed conciliation with defiance as he dismissed his government but vowed to stay in office to stabilise Egypt.

Faced with images of riot police officers using teargas and water cannons against protesters, the Obama administration has moved from tentative support to distancing itself from  Mubarak, its staunchest Arab ally, saying it would review $1.5 billion in aid and warning him that he must confront the grievances of his people.

Obama noted that in Mubarak’s speech, he promised to expand democracy and economic opportunity. “He has a responsibility to give meaning to those words,” Obama said. He called on Mubarak to open a dialogue with the demonstrators, though he did not go as far as to urge free and fair elections. Illustrating the delicate balance that the administration faces with Egypt, Obama referred to the joint projects of the two countries. He also urged the demonstrators to “express themselves peacefully.”

But the firmness of the president’s comments signalled that the crisis in Egypt had passed a “critical turning point,” in the words of one senior American official. Regardless of whether Mr. Mubarak survives, this official said, the upheaval has already transformed Egyptian politics and how the United States will handle a leader long seen as a stable anchor in a turbulent region.

The announcement that the administration would review its aid was the first tangible sign that the United States was keeping Mubarak at arm’s length.

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