Mubarak sets up reform panel

Egypt crisis: President orders probe into clashes during agitation

Up in arms: An anti-Mubarak protester shouts slogans during a march in Alexandria, Egypt, on Tuesday. AP

Mubarak’s decrees were announced on state television by Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who also said Mubarak will set up a separate committee to monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms. The two committees will start working immediately, he said.

The government has promised several concessions since the uprising began on January 25 but has refused the protesters’ main demand that Mubarak step down immediately instead of staying on through September elections.

Tuesday’s decision was the first concrete step taken by the longtime authoritarian ruler to implement promised reforms.

Mubarak’s efforts to stay in office got a boost from the Obama administration, which conceded that it will not endorse calls for the president’s immediate departure, saying a precipitous exit could set back the country’s democratic transition.

After several days of mixed messages about whether it wants to see Mubarak stay or go, Washington stepped up calls for a faster, more inclusive national dialogue on reform in Egypt.

Under Egypt’s constitution, Mubarak’s resignation would trigger an election in 60 days. US officials said that is not enough time to prepare.

Mubarak also ordered a probe into last week’s clashes between the protesters and government supporters as well as mass detentions of human rights activists and journalists. The committee will refer its findings to the attorney-general, Suleiman said.

The committee considering constitutional and legislative changes will be led by the head of Egypt’s highest appellate court and composed of six senior judges and four constitutional experts, according to a statement issued by the official news agency MENA. It will make its recommendations to Suleiman by the end of this month.

The latest government announcement came two days after Suleiman met for the first time with representatives of opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to debate a way out of the ongoing political crisis.

The fundamentalist Islamic group issued a statement earlier on Tuesday calling the reforms proposed so far as “partial” and insisting that Mubarak must go to ease what it called the anger felt by Egyptians who face widespread poverty and government repression.

The president went on with official business on Tuesday, receiving the foreign minister of the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Protest continues

Thousands of protesters, meanwhile, remained camped out in the central Tahrir Square, many hoping for an appearance by Google Inc executive Wael Ghonim, a 30-year-old marketing manager who has emerged as a rallying point after he was released on Monday after 12 days in custody.

About 90,000 people have joined a Facebook group nominating Ghonim to be their spokesman. Many demonstrators reject a group of officially sanctioned and traditional Egyptian opposition groups that have been negotiating with the government on their behalf in recent days.

Some on the square chanted “Wael Ghonim is coming today”, although reports that he planned to appear couldn’t be confirmed.

The demonstrators have said they would not enter negotiations with the regime before Mubarak's departure. Protesters appear to have settled in for a long standoff, turning Tahrir Square into a makeshift village. Tens of thousands come every day, with some sleeping in tents made of blankets and plastic sheeting.

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