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Egypt’s Government Must Avoid Violence, Gibbs Says

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has an “obligation” to avoid violence amid protests against his government and he should seize the street demonstrations as an opportunity to enact political reforms, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Egypt is a “close and important partner” of the U.S. and the Obama administration believes Mubarak’s government is stable, Gibbs said. He stressed that the U.S. isn’t choosing sides in Egypt’s internal conflict.

“This isn’t a choice between the government and the people of Egypt,” Gibbs said at a White House briefing. “This represents an opportunity for President Mubarak and the government to demonstrate its willingness to listen to its own people.”

Clashes between protesters and security forces continued for a third day today in cities including Suez and Ismailia, both east of Cairo, sending Egypt’s benchmark EGX30 index tumbling by the most in more than two years. While the capital remained quiet, riot police have been deployed downtown since demonstrations on Jan. 25 in which four people were killed.

Adding to the challenge to Mubarak, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Cairo and said he will join demonstrators in the capital tomorrow. ElBaradei, former head of the United Nations nuclear agency, has urged Mubarak to step down.

Pressure on Mubarak

The White House is prepared to step up its criticism of Mubarak, a key Middle East ally, if his government intensifies its crackdown on protesters, an administration official said yesterday. Obama privately pressed Mubarak in a telephone call last week to embrace democratic changes, the official on condition of anonymity.

The administration is urging both sides to avoid violent confrontations.

“There’s an obligation by the government not to engage in violence,” Gibbs said today. “There’s an obligation by those that are protesting not to engage in violence by burning government buildings.”

Gibbs’s comments urging Mubarak to seize the protest the liberalize his country echoed those by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday when she said that Mubarak, in power since 1981, has an “important opportunity” to enact economic, political and social reforms.

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