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More than million protesters have gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Cairo in a rally billed as the day of departure calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Protesters have flooded into the square which has come under attack for the past two days by pro-Mubarak supporters.
Ahmed Naguib: “This is not just a revolt to topple a regime; this is a revolt for our dignity. We need justice. We need to punish those who committed atrocities and crimes against humanity in this square.”
Hundreds of thousands of protesters are also gathering in Alexandria, Mansoura, and other cities in Egypt.
The New York Times reports the Obama administration is discussing a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to a transitional government headed by the newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military. Suleiman has close ties to the U.S. military and the CIA. He was trained at the U.S. Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg and has been described as the CIA’s point man in Egypt for the secret extraordinary rendition program. On Thursday, Suleiman blamed the media for inciting the unrest.
Omar Suleiman: “I say to the youth, we thank you for what you have done. You are the spark that ignited the reconciliation during this time, and the nation has listened to all of your demands. We ask you to give the government a chance to fulfill its role. Do not allow rumors and the satellite channels to anger you against your government.”
On the streets in Cairo, supporters of the Mubarak regime violently attacked journalists and human rights workers on Thursday. The Committee to Protect Journalists said it had received 100 reports of attacks on journalists. A crew from ABC News was carjacked and threatened with beheading. A Swedish journalist was stabbed. Authorities also arrested reporters from the New York Times, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, and other outlets. In addition, backers of Mubarak dismantled satellite equipment making it impossible for most TV stations to broadcast scenes from the square. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks on journalists and peaceful protesters.
Ban Ki-moon: “Violent attacks against peaceful protesters are completely unacceptable. It is important to ensure an orderly and peaceful transition. I have urged all parties to engage in such a process without delaying, with a full respect for human rights, in particular the freedoms of speech, expression, association and information.”
A broadcaster at the Egyptian state-run Nile TV station has resigned. Shahira Amin said she quit because she was not allowed to report on what was happening in Tahrir Square.
Shahira Amin: “I’m here in Tahrir Square, and I’m determined to be on the side of the people, not the regime. And that’s why I’m here.”
Al Jazeera Anchor: “Right, and so you’ve resigned from Nile Television?”
Amin: “I walked out yesterday. I can’t be part of the propaganda machine. I’m not going to sheath the public eyes.”
The impact of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt is growing across the region. On Thursday, the president of Algeria promised to lift a 19-year-old state of emergency and to provide more political freedoms. The move comes as anti-government protesters have announced plans to hold mass protests on February 12.
In Yemen, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched on Thursday and called for the resignation of 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.
Monawar Al Hmadi, protester: “We hate promises. It’s too late, and we have long asked for reforms. We have been patient with oppression, we have been patient with hunger, hoping that the officials will finally understand us. But they just don’t.”
In Syria, anti-government protesters are planning to demonstrate today calling on the government to end the state of emergency which has been in place since 1963. On Wednesday, a small group of Syrian protesters attempted to gather in Damascus to hold a candlelight vigil for the Egyptian demonstrators. According to Human Rights Watch, the protesters were beaten by a group of 20 people dressed in civilian clothing. The police, who were present nearby, failed to intervene.
While protests continue across the region, Former Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona has described the growing popular movements in the Arab world as a “virus” that must be countered. He made the comment in an interview on Fox News.
Sen. McCain: “This virus is spreading throughout the Middle East. The president of Yemen, as you know, just made the announcement that he wasn’t running again. This, I would argue, is probably the most dangerous period of history in — of our entire involvement in the Middle East, at least in modern times.”
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council has announced former First Lady Mirlande Manigat and popular musician Michel Martelly will face each other in a presidential election run-off on March 20. The decision was made after the Obama administration and the Organization of American States pressured Haiti not to include government-backed candidate Jude Celestin in the run-off, although he received more votes than Martelly. OAS claimed that Celestin had benefited from vote rigging and fraud. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Haiti to personally pressure Haitian President René Préval not to include Celestin in the runoff. But many organizations, including the Congressional Black Caucus, have criticized the Obama administration’s stance. Mark Weisbrot, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said it was a disgrace that, “the richest country in the world has forced one of the poorest to change the results of its presidential election, literally under the threat of starvation.” Haiti’s presidential election process has also come under intense criticism in part because candidates of former President Juan-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Party were banned from running.
Global food prices hit a new high in January and are expected to worsen after a massive snowstorm in the United States and floods in Australia. The price of wheat, corn and soybean are all near record highs. Abdolereza Abbassian is with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Abdolereza Abbassian: “The issue that concerns us is the duration of this price increase, which started so many months ago, is not really giving us any indications that it is going to change dramatically in the future coming months, is long. And this long duration is something I think eventually will bring more food inflation in many countries.”
As gas prices at the pump continue to climb, Shell Oil has announced its profits doubled last year to $18.6 billion. That means Shell made slightly more than $50 million every day last year.
In economic news, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke held a rare question-and-answer session with reporters on Thursday. Bernanke predicted the nation’s unemployment rate would remain high for some time.
Ben Bernanke: “Although economic growth will probably increase this year, we expect the unemployment rate to remain stubbornly above, and inflation to remain persistently below, the levels that Federal Reserve policymakers have judged to be consistent over the longer term with our mandate from the Congress to foster maximum employment and price stability.”
USA Today is reporting more than 20,000 veterans, active-duty troops and reservists who took out special government-backed mortgages lost their homes last year — the highest number since 2003. The housing crisis has hit military families particularly hard in part because of transfers and the loss of civilian jobs left behind by reservists. Late last year, JPMorgan Chase was forced by a lawsuit to admit that it has been overcharging thousands of military families for their mortgages and had improperly foreclosed on more than a dozen such families.
Newly released internal bank documents show senior executives at JPMorgan Chase had serious doubts about the legitimacy of Bernard Madoff’s investment business more than 18 months before his Ponzi scheme collapsed. Despite repeated suspicions, the bank allowed Madoff to move billions of dollars of investors’ cash in and out of his Chase bank accounts right until the day of his arrest in December 2008. In one email, a high-level risk management officer for Chase’s investment bank wrote, “There is a well-known cloud over the head of Madoff” and “his returns are speculated to be part of a Ponzi scheme.” Lawyers have accused the bank of overlooking the warning signs in order to pursue profitable credit and derivatives deals with Madoff and his investors.
The U.S. military has announced a 48-year-old Afghan man has died at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Authorities said Awal Malim Gul died shortly after using an elliptical trainer, a stationary exercise machine. Gul had been held at Guantánamo for nearly nine years without charge.
On Thursday, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that his state will challenge Obama’s healthcare law by bypassing the appeals process and going straight to the Supreme Court. Cuccinelli said that conflicting court decisions about the law’s constitutionality have created sufficient uncertainty about implementation of the law to justify expediting Supreme Court review. The U.S. Department of Justice will oppose the motion, saying the case should be fully heard by lower courts before the high court acts.
Newly released Census data shows the city of New Orleans has lost nearly a third of its population over the past 10 years. Census workers counted about 344,000 residents in New Orleans last year, down from 485,000 in 2000.
In Puerto Rico, riot police attacked students on strike at the University of Puerto Rico with rubber bullets during a sit-in demonstration at the Capitol. More than 150 students practicing civil disobedience were arrested. The student strike began in December against severe budget cuts and the privatization of the institution.