30 Jan 2011

Reforms in Egypt urged by West

10:01 pm on 30 January 2011

The United States, Britain, France and Germany have urged Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to avoid violence and enact reforms as massive protests continue.

In Cairo, thousands of demonstrators ignored an overnight curfew. The army is standing by and not intervening.

As the overnight curfew ended in the city, residents dismantled barricades set up to deter looters.

Banks, the stock exchange and schools are expected to remain closed.

The BBC reports that in many neighbourhoods, residents have formed committees to protect their properties from looters.

Looters rampaged through a number of wealthy neighbourhoods in Cairo, while in Alexandria there were reports of widespread looting of supermarket chains.

Mr Mubarak, 82, has appointed his first ever vice-president and a new prime minister as he struggles to regain control after five days of street demonstrations. He has been in office since 1981.

The unrest follows an uprising in Tunisia two weeks ago which toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

The Tunisian upheaval began with anger over rising food prices, high unemployment and anger at official corruption. Similar sentiments are held in Egypt.

US President Barack Obama met national security officials on Saturday to discuss the situation in Egypt.

Afterwards, the White House said it would continue to focus on "calling for restraint, supporting universal rights and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform."

There was a similar call from the leaders of Britain, Germany and France.

"We call on President Mubarak to avoid at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians, and on the demonstrators to exercise their rights peacefully," said Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy in a joint statement.

US view

The BBC reports President Obama spoke to Mr Mubarak on Friday and urged him to uphold promises of reform. The United States will review its aid of $US1.5 billion to Egypt based on events in the coming days.

The US has told Mr Mubarak it is not enough to simply reshuffle the deck with a shake-up of his government.

The Obama administration is performing a delicate balancing act, trying to avoid abandoning Mr Mubarak while supporting protesters who seek broader political rights.

The administration has been caught off guard by the political upheaval in the Middle East.

From the American perspective, analysts say the worst-case scenario in the crisis would be the rise of an Islamist government potentially aligned with Iran.

But so far, there has been no sign of Muslim fundamentalism driving the protest movement.

Saudi support

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has expressed support for President Mubarak.

He says meddling in the security and stability of Egypt cannot be tolerated.

The official Saudi Press Agency says the King has pledged to stand with the government of Egypt.