Egyptian president asks Cabinet to resign

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Cairo, Jan 29 (AP) Egypt''s embattled President HosniMubarak today said he had asked his Cabinet to resign andpromised reforms in his first response to protesters who havemounted the biggest challenge ever to his 30-year rule.

But Mubarak also defended the crackdown by police ontens of thousands of demonstrators that drew harsh criticismfrom the Obama administration yesterday and even a threat toreduce a USD 1.5 billion program of foreign aid if Egyptescalated the use of force.

A somber looking Mubarak called anti-governmentprotests "part of a bigger plot to shake the stability anddestroy legitimacy" of the political system.

The steps announced in a nationally televised speechfell short of protesters'' demands for his ouster that havebeen a constant mantra during four straight days ofdemonstrations.

"Out, out, out," protesters chanted yesterday inviolent, chaotic scenes of battles with riot police.

They also demand remedies to widespread poverty inthis nation of 80 million.

"We aspire for more democracy, more effort to combatunemployment and poverty and combat corruption," he said.

But those words were likely to be interpreted as anattempt to cling to power rather than take concrete steps tosolve some of the more pressing problems facing manyEgyptians, primarily unemployment and rapidly rising foodprices.

Mubarak also defended the security forces'' crackdownon protesters, saying he had given them instructions that theprotesters be allowed to express their views. But, he said,acts of violence and vandalism left the security forces withno choice but to react top restore order.

Protesters have seized the streets of Cairo, battlingpolice with stones and firebombs, burning down the rulingparty headquarters, and defying a night curfew enforced by amilitary deployment.

It is the peak of unrest posing the most dire threatto Mubarak in his three decades of authoritarian rule.

He said this week''s protests struck fear in the heartof the majority of Egyptians concerned about the future oftheir country.

"Violence will not solve the problems we face orrealise the objectives we aspire to," he said. "I will not shyaway from taking any decision that maintains the security ofevery Egyptian," he vowed. (AP)

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