President Hosni Mubarak is facing increasing calls to resign following violent attacks by pro-Mubarak forces against protesters near Tahrir Square in Cairo. At least six people have been killed and almost 1,000 people injured. Machine-gun fire has been heard throughout the day in the square. Wounded protesters are being treated in makeshift medical clinics. Mubarak loyalists began the attack Wednesday by charging Tahrir Square on horseback and camels, lashing out at civilians. Democracy Now! spoke to Cairo resident Selma al-Tarzi shortly after the attacks began.
Selma al-Tarzi: “It’s a massacre. They’re coming in in government cars, buses, and in thousands. They have knives. They are throwing Molotov bombs. They are burning the trees. They are throwing stones at us. We managed to catch many of them. All of them are undercover police.”
Earlier today, Egypt’s new prime minister apologized for what he described as a “fatal error,” but the violence by pro-Mubarak forces is continuing. Egyptian authorities are reportedly forcing the cell phone company Vodafone to send out pro-Mubarak text messages. Despite the violence, many anti-Mubarak protesters have refused to leave Tahrir Square.
In Washington, U.S. Department of State spokesperson P.J. Crowley claimed he was not certain who caused the violence in Tahrir Square, where anti-government protesters had been peacefully assembling for the past week.
P.J. Crowley: “We don’t know who unleashed these thugs on the streets of Cairo. They have been identified as supporters of the government. But whoever they are, there needs to be accountability here. This was clearly an attempt at intimidating the protesters, who have been communicating to the government and insisting on change. As the President said last night, there needs to be a transition. It needs to start now.”
Many protesters in Egypt urged the United States to take a firmer stand against its longtime ally.
Egyptian protester: “If the President Obama said directly to Mubarak, 'You have to leave and leave the country to decide what they want,' the peace would be back to Egypt in one second, if he said this. We all, all of us — we go back. I am here. This is — I don’t know how many days. I am here from Friday. I left Sinai. I have a restaurant in Sinai. I left the restaurant, and I came here, to be here. And I never come back to home, to my home, [until] Mubarak go away. He must go.”
Opposition leaders, including the liberal figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood, have rejected a call to negotiate with Mubarak’s new prime minister, Ahmed Shafik. They told Reuters only the president’s departure and an end to violence would bring them to negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Project Journalists is accusing the Mubarak regime of orchestrating attacks on reporters covering the protests. In the most high-profile case, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper was repeatedly punched in the head, and his production team was attacked in a scene that was caught on video. Journalists with CBS News, ABC News, BBC, the Washington Post, Australian Broadcasting, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television were also reportedly attacked. The Associated Press is reporting the Egyptian military has started rounding up journalists, claiming it is for their own safety. At least one group of foreign journalists have already been detained.
While the world’s attention has been on Egypt, mass protests continue across the Arab world. In Yemen, tens of thousands marched today in what has been described as a day of rage against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years. On Wednesday, Saleh announced he would not seek to extend his presidency beyond 2013, but protesters want him to step down sooner.
In Jordan, activists gathered in Amman Wednesday to protest against Jordan’s newly appointed prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, and calling for genuine political and economic reform. King Abdullah named Bakhit earlier this week in an attempt to stave off mass street protests. The Jordanian activist Fakher Daas took part in Wednesday’s demonstration.
Fakher Daas: “Today we say that cosmetic changes are not accepted. We do not want changes in faces. We want real grassroots change and in policies. We want an end to the economic policy which has been adopted by the government under the International Monetary Fund guidance since 1989. We want an end to repressive laws, including elections law.”
In Sudan, 10 journalists were arrested earlier today ahead of anti-government protests. Security forces have surrounded universities, preventing students from spilling out onto the streets.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the uprising in Egypt might force Israel to expand the size of its armed forces.
Benjamin Netanyahu: “The basis of our stability, our future and for maintaining peace or widening it, particularly in unstable times, this basis lies in bolstering Israel’s might.”
In other news, a maximum category-five cyclone has hit Australia, causing major structural damage to homes and boats in Queensland. Despite being large enough to cover most of the United States and with winds stronger than Hurricane Katrina, Australian officials say Cyclone Yasi caused no serious injuries or deaths. Officials stressed assessments made thus far have been conducted by air. The extent of the damage will not be known until there are investigators on the ground. Sugarcane crops in some areas have been totally destroyed; the industry fears losses of up to $500 million. More than 180,000 homes are without power.
The Wall Street Journal reports 2010 was a banner year for bankers as Wall Street compensation hit a record-breaking $135 billion. That’s a 5.7 percent increase from 2009.
The number of Americans on food stamps continues to increase, as 43.6 million people relied on food stamps in November. The number of people receiving food stamps has jumped by 14 percent over the past year. In Washington, D.C., and Mississippi, more than one-fifth of residents receive food stamps.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans have failed to repeal President Obama’s year-old healthcare law in a close vote. Republicans conceded their attempt was largely symbolic but argued it forced Democrats to take a position on the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the law after a series of conflicting decisions by federal judges.
Three House Democrats have accused Halliburton and 11 other energy companies with pumping more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel into the ground in 19 states in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act. In a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California’s Henry Waxman, Massachusetts’s Edward Markey and Colorado’s Diana DeGette contend Halliburton and others dumped the fluid during a phase of natural gas extraction known as “hydrofracking.”
In related news, a group representing the oil and gas industry have launched a campaign against Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, which has been nominated for an Academy Award. The group, Energy in Depth, claims Fox misstates and ignores verifiable facts. Fox maintains his documentary is 100 percent factual. Energy in Depth is an industry group formed to fight federal regulation of fracking.
The whistleblower website WikiLeaks has been nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. A Norwegian parliamentarian nominated the site, arguing its contributions to freedom of speech and transparency were among the most important of the 21st century.