A record turnout of protesters is expected on the streets of Egypt today just hours after President Hosni Mubarak again refused to step down. In a nighttime address, Mubarak maintained his vow to remain in office until new elections in September. While many had expected a farewell speech, Mubarak said only that he would delegate his presidential authority to handpicked vice president Omar Suleiman. Mubarak again also tried to paint calls for his departure as a “foreign” demand.
President Hosni Mubarak: “As president of the republic, I do not find any embarrassment or fault in listening to young people in my country and responding to that. However, the real embarrassment and shame, and what I did not and will not accept ever, is to listen to any foreign instructions coming from abroad, regardless of its sources or motives.”
Shortly after Mubarak handed him the powers of the presidency, Vice President Omar Suleiman urged demonstrators to abandon the protests.
Vice President Omar Suleiman: “Youth of Egypt, youth of Egypt and its heroes, go back to your homes and your jobs. The nation needs your arms to build, improve and be creative. Do not listen to tendentious satellite channels and channels which have no aims except to mesmerize and to weaken Egypt and ruin its image. Listen only to what your consciences instruct you to do, your awareness and your appreciation of dangers surrounding you.”
Massive demonstrations are being held in Cairo, Mahalla, Tanta, Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez. In Cairo, protesters have expanded their rallies beyond Tahrir Square to locations including the presidential palace, the parliament and the offices of state television. Mubarak’s defiant speech followed a day of widespread rumors that he was to announce his resignation. Earlier in the day, CIA Director Leon Panetta had helped fuel the speculation by saying there was a “strong likelihood” that Mubarak would step down. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a massive crowd of hundreds of thousands began jeering even before Mubarak had finished his remarks.
Protester #1: “We didn’t expect this at all, and I see that everybody is now asking him, and by all means, just to leave his leadership and leave us for a new democracy and new era for Egypt.”
Protester #2: “We asked him more than once that he should leave this country in peace, but he is still insisting to keep on this country ruling it with totally unbelievable [expletive]. He really has to leave.”
The Egyptian military is supporting Mubarak’s rejection of the pro-democracy movement’s demands. In a statement today, the supreme military council backed Mubarak’s plan to transfer power to Suleiman and said it would ensure the safety of new elections later this year. The military leaders also vowed to suspend the 30-year-old emergency laws but suggested that would only come after the protests end.
In a statement, President Obama again refused to back Mubarak’s immediate departure, saying “it is not yet clear’’ whether the transition to democracy in Egypt will be “immediate, meaningful or sufficient.'’ In brief remarks shortly before Mubarak's address, Obama spoke in vague terms about the Egyptian uprising.
President Obama: “What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change. They’ve turned out in extraordinary numbers representing all ages and all walks of life, but it’s young people who have been at the forefront, a new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be heard. And so, going forward, we want those young people and we want all Egyptians to know America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.”
One of Egypt’s best-known bloggers meanwhile has just been released from jail after being secretly held for nearly a week. Kareem Amer and his friend, filmmaker Samir Eshra, were seized by a group of Mubarak supporters this week and then handed over to the military. Kareem and Samir were held in a jail located in a desert outside of Cairo.
Iran has placed a prominent opposition leader under house arrest ahead of an anti-government protest planned for next week. Mehdi Karroubi, a former head of Iran’s parliament, was detained just before today’s commemoration of the 32nd anniversary of the Iranian revolution. Last year Karroubi led an opposition protest during the anniversary celebrations in Tehran.
A Pakistani court has extended the detention of a U.S. consulate worker accused in a fatal shooting for another two weeks. Raymond Allen Davis has admitted to killing two people he said threatened him while he was driving in Lahore last month. A third Pakistani was reportedly run over and killed by a U.S. consulate vehicle that arrived at the scene. Davis’s detention has strained U.S.-Pakistani ties, with the U.S. government maintaining he’s entitled to diplomatic immunity. At a hearing on Thursday, the Lahore city police chief accused Davis of “cold-blooded” murder.
President Obama has unveiled an $18 billion plan to expand high-speed wireless internet nationwide. The funding would be raised by auctioning off airwaves that currently belong to television stations and government agencies.
President Obama: “We want to invest in the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage for 98 percent of Americans. This isn’t just about faster internet or being able to find a friend on Facebook. It’s about connecting every corner of America to the digital age.”
In promoting his plan, Obama noted that the internet was first created by government-funded research before it was turned over to private profit.
President Obama: “Today, more than 90 percent of homes in South Korea subscribe to high-speed broadband. They just have better networks than we do. In America, the nation that created the internet — by the way, because of government investment; didn’t just happen by itself magically. Because of government R&D, we created the internet. But yet, only 65 percent of households here in America can say the same.”
The website ThinkProgress.org has revealed details of a plot to undermine political opponents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to leaked emails, three private security firms were asked to propose a strategy for weakening progressive and labor groups that have challenged the Chamber’s lobbying for some of the nation’s biggest corporations. The groups include the labor coalition Change to Win, the Service Employees International Union, U.S. Chamber Watch, StopTheChamber.com, and Think Progress itself. One proposal called for entrapping a Chamber target by providing them with a document containing false information about the Chamber and then exposing the document as a fake once the group publicized its contents. The firms also proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to communicate with Change to Win. The three security companies — Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies — were also implicated this week in a plot to target the online whistleblower WikiLeaks and some of its prominent supporters.
Republican Senator Jon Kyl has announced he won’t seek a fourth term in office next year. The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, Kyl is the fifth incumbent senator to announce his retirement before the 2012 elections.
And former vice president Dick Cheney has been publicly heckled at an unlikely venue: the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, Cheney appeared at CPAC to grant a “Defending the Constitution” award to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. After taking the stage to the pop music hit “Simply the Best,” Cheney was met with shouts of “war criminal” and “where’s bin Laden?” The heckles appeared to come from a contingent of supporters of libertarian Republican Ron Paul. The Paul group walked out of the room as Cheney began to speak.