Americans urged to leave Egypt ‘immediately’
WASHINGTON – The State Department issued a stark travel warning for US citizens in Egypt, urging those who want to leave to “immediately” head for the airport, adding that any delay was “not advisable.”
The warning came after days of protests turned increasingly violent, with gunfire aimed at anti-regime protesters leaving at least two dead in Cairo’s central Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in the early hours Thursday.
“Do not wait for a call from the US embassy. Further delay is not advisable,” the State Department warned, adding: “Additional US government flights after Thursday are unlikely.”
About 1,900 US citizens and their family members have been evacuated from Egypt since Monday, officials said.
The Obama administration Wednesday pressed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to move “farther and faster” on handing over power as his supporters waged bloody street battles in Cairo.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later telephoned Mubarak’s newly-appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, to request a probe into clashes in Cairo that left at least three dead and more than 600 injured.
She called the violence “a shocking development after many days of consistently peaceful demonstrations.”
“The secretary urged that the government of Egypt hold accountable those who were responsible for violent acts,” the State Department said in a statement.
The violence caused administration officials to worry about the effect of a prolonged political deadlock and proved to be a catalyst for many in the US Congress who now want Mubarak to leave power sooner rather than later.
And as Mubarak no longer appeared to be the ally he was for three decades, there were signs senior US policymakers were trying to keep their potentially pivotal relationships intact with Egypt’s politically powerful military.
Reiterating Obama’s own appeal to Mubarak on Tuesday, Clinton stressed to Suleiman that the political transition “has to start now,” her spokesman Philip Crowley said.
He said Egyptian government officials should start a national dialogue involving opposition figures, members of civil society, and the army — a process that should ultimately lead to genuine democratic elections.
Mubarak appears to be digging his heels in after defying more than a week of massive protests calling for his immediate ouster, although he did concede on Tuesday that he would not run for re-election in September.
The president’s supporters on Wednesday stormed the Cairo stronghold of anti-government protesters, amid a hail of Molotov cocktails, concrete blocks and stones, leaving a soldier dead, as well as hundreds of people injured.
“The longer that this (political deadlock) goes unresolved, the greater the danger of further violence,” Crowley warned.
In her conversation with Suleiman, Clinton “strongly encouraged the government to investigate and hold those responsible for the violence accountable,” Crowley said.
“We don’t know who unleashed these thugs on the streets in Cairo… whoever they are, there needs to be accountability here. This was clearly an attempt to intimidate the protesters.”
In another sign patience in Washington was wearing thin, veteran Republican Senator John McCain emerged from talks with Obama saying forcibly that it was time for Mubarak to resign for the good of Egypt.
McCain held rare Oval Office talks with Obama, his conqueror in the 2008 presidential election, and made one of the first overt calls by a senior Washington figure for Mubarak to leave office immediately.
Sources however said that Obama had made clear to the Egyptian leader that his days in power are numbered and his plan to hang on until September elections may not be acceptable.
Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, and Saxby Chambliss also signaled they wanted Mubarak out sooner rather than later, and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy suggested the Egyptian leader’s time was running out fast.
“President Mubarak’s decision to stand down from future leadership of the government is welcome, but his continued role in Egypt’s transition is unrealistic,” Leahy told US media.
The foreign ministry in Cairo meanwhile provided a swift overnight rebuttal to the US president’s calls for a swift transfer of power, made after what officials termed a “frank” telephone conversation with Mubarak.
With many analysts seeing the role of Egypt’s army as crucial in eventually resolving the crisis, top US officials sought to keep lines of communication open.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates conferred with his Egyptian counterpart on Wednesday, his third conversation in a week with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawim.
Leading Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei told CBS news that Western fears that a post-Mubarak Egypt could turn against Israel and the United States amounted to “hype.”