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Obama warns Egypt's Mubarak that suppression won't work

President Obama, reacting to a speech given by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, says the U.S. will 'continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people.' Obama also notes: 'Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.'

January 28, 2011|By Michael Muskal and Michael A. Memoli, Los Angeles Times

President Obama on Friday issued a stern warning to Egypt's president to deliver on a pledge to forge a more open democracy in the Arab nation, saying: "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away."

In a hastily arranged statement delivered from the White House State Dining Room, Obama urged Egyptian authorities to refrain from violence against their citizens, and for protesters to express themselves peacefully.

"Going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise," he said.

Obama referred to a speech he made two years ago from Cairo, in which he said that governments "must maintain power through consent, not coercion."

"Ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people," he said. "Put simply, the Egyptian people want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization."

He acknowledged that there will be “difficult days to come,” but said that the United States “will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful.”

Obama's statement was the latest call from his administration on the Egyptian government to avoid a violent response to street demonstrations and to address those concerns being raised in the streets.

In separate televised briefings, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explained that the United States was deeply concerned by the reports of violence in several Egyptian cities against tens of thousands of protesters seeking democratic reforms.

"Violence will not solve" the situation, Gibbs said at the briefing, which had been delayed while the administration weighed the evolving situation. What will solve the crisis "is the government addressing those concerns."

Later, Gibbs said that the Egyptian government's response "cannot be violence," the strongest statement to date on the U.S. position.

Gibbs said Obama had been briefed about the fluid events but had not tried to telephone Egypt President Hosni Mubarak.

Throughout the crisis, which has been building for several days and reached its highest level on Friday, the Obama administration, led by the president, has publicly insisted that the protesters have "legitimate grievances" over human rights, including the right to peacefully seek reforms.

But officials have been circumspect, out of regard for a crucial ally in the Mideast and one of the Arab states that has made peace with Israel.

The Obama administration said it is reviewing its aid to Egypt, an estimated $1.5 billion, and has warned Americans to avoid traveling to the country.

The Egyptian government has imposed an overnight curfew, but demonstrators have continued to take to the streets. The army has been on the streets as well.

"We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters, and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces," Clinton said earlier at the State Department.

"We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communication," Clinton said. "These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away."

Clinton also asked protesters to "refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully."

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