Egypt 'must protect protest rights'

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Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman has told protesters to go home after he was handed powers by Hosni Mubarak (AP)

Egypt must protect the right to peaceful protests, William Hague has said after President Hosni Mubarak disappointed demonstrators by refusing to step down.

The Foreign Secretary said the UK was examining very carefully televised addresses by Mr Mubarak and his Vice President, Omar Suleiman, to whom he said he had handed powers.

It was “not immediately clear” exactly which powers had been transferred, Mr Hague said in Bahrain, where he is on the latest leg of a Middle East tour.

Cairo was braced for protests to reach a new intensity after hundreds of thousands who packed Tahrir Square expressed bitter disappointment at the President’s address. Pro-reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei later predicted “Egypt will explode” and called on the military to intervene.

Expectations had been high that Mr Mubarak would announce he was stepping down – the key demand of those who have gathered for two weeks amid mounting public anger. His words were greeted with silence, with critics slapping their foreheads in anger and disbelief and waving shoes in protest before resuming chants for him to quit.

Mr Hague said: “It is not immediately clear what powers are being handed over and what the full implications are. We think the solution to this has to be owned by the Egyptian people themselves.

“All we want in the United Kingdom is for them to be able to settle their own differences in a peaceful and democratic way. That is why we have called from the beginning of this crisis for an urgent but orderly transition to a more broadly-based government. In the meantime we look to the Egyptian authorities to protect the right to peaceful protest.”

Earlier, a Foreign Office minister said the UK was “deeply concerned” about a Briton missing in Egypt for 10 days and had demanded to know if he was being held by the authorities.

Alistair Burt said Hisham Morsi, who has dual British and Egyptian nationality, was last seen being removed from Tahrir Square on January 31 but it remained unclear by whom and whether he was arrested.

Mr Burt, who raised the case with the Egyptian ambassador on Wednesday, said it was vital Cairo met a promise to cease “arresting and harassing journalists, foreigners and members of the opposition”.

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