Obama: Transition must start now

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President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Egypt in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington

US President Barack Obama has challenged Egypt’s embattled autocratic ruler to immediately begin the process of transitioning the country to new leadership, a signal that there should be no drawn-out goodbye.

Earlier, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had announced he would not seek another term in office but also would not yield to growing demands to step down now. After a huddle at the White House, Mr Obama went on television to respond.

In his brief statement at the White House, Mr Obama invoked Egypt’s ancient and storied past in what appeared to be an appeal to Mr Mubarak’s desire to be remembered well in history as a powerful leader and peacemaker. He said he had spoken to Mr Mubarak to press his case for 30 minutes shortly after Mr Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people.

“He recognises that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place,” Mr Obama said of Mr Mubarak. “Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in position of political power do so at the will of our people.”

“Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation; the voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of the moments, this is one of those times,” Mr Obama said. He added that the United States heard those voices demanding change as anti-government protests filled the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

“It is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” Mr Obama said he had told Mr Mubarak in the phone call.

That suggested Mr Mubarak’s concession was not enough, but Mr Obama left the point dangling. He was careful not to say that Mr Mubarak should have left immediately, and he stressed that it was not up to the United States to pick Egypt’s leaders.

“Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties,” he said. “It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And, it should result in a government that is not only grounded in democratic principles but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Obama praised the “passion and dignity” of the protesters who have rallied for Mr Mubarak’s departure as an “inspiration” to people around the world, and he hailed the Egyptian military for its poise in handling the situation.

“To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices,” Mr Obama said. “I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and grandchildren.”

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