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Egypt Must Ensure Protests Can Take Place, Gibbs Says

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s spokesman said the Egyptian government must ensure the rights of its citizens to peacefully protest and again condemned violence that killed at least six demonstrators in Cairo overnight.

“The world is watching the actions that are taking place right now in Egypt,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with the president to an event in Pennsylvania. The Egyptian government must make good on its promise to hold accountable those responsible for attacks on demonstrators, he said.

Gibbs also condemned the targeting of reporters covering the protests, some of whom have been attacked or detained. “This also is completely and totally unacceptable,” he said.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik said today that some Mubarak supporters instigated the clashes in the square and that those responsible will be prosecuted. Mohamed El-Beltagy, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the attacks were “under the direct supervision” of the government. He said the anti-government protesters will hold their ground.

Obama earlier today urged an audience at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to pray that “the rights and aspirations of Egyptians will be realized.”

Act Immediately

Gibbs repeated the U.S. stance that Mubarak must act immediately to begin a transition of power. The 82-year-old Egyptian leader said previously that he will stay in office until elections scheduled for September.

“It is important that we all begin to see meaningful steps towards that transition and that negotiations take place between the government and a broadly based group of members of the opposition,” Gibbs said.

Administration officials are sticking to Obama’s insistence that the new leadership of Egypt is a matter for the Egyptian people. “We do not have a favorite candidate or candidates. We are not going to anoint any successor to President Mubarak. These are decisions to be made by the Egyptian people,” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley, said in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicholas Johnston in Washington at njohnston3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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