Vice President Omar Suleiman of Egypt says the government will not tolerate prolonged anti-government protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands remained Wednesday after one of the biggest protests yet against President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt's state-run MENA news agency quoted Suleiman as saying that a crisis triggered by 16 days of anti-Mubarak protests in Tahrir Square must end "as soon as possible."
MENA says Suleiman told a group of Egyptian newspaper editors that the presence of anti-Mubarak activists and satellite television stations in the square was making Egyptian citizens "hesitant to go to work" and disrupting daily life. He accused satellite TV stations of "insulting" Egypt, but did not name any.
He added: "We cannot bear this situation for a long time and we must end this crisis as soon as possible."
Suleiman also blamed the protests for paralyzing the Egyptian economy.
Credit Agricole analysts estimate the crisis is costing Egypt $310 million a day, according to Reuters.
But, Suleiman also is quoted as saying the government does not want to deal with Egyptian society using "police tools" and prefers to use dialogue to try to address the protesters' demands.
Thousands spent another night in makeshift shelters in Tahrir Square after Egyptians staged one of their biggest protests yet, insisting Mubarak step down immediately and ignoring a government plan to transfer power.
For many protesters it was the first time they had joined the daily demonstrations in Tahrir Square showing the movement — now in its third week — still has momentum.
Many said they were inspired by the release from police custody of activist and a Google executive Wael Ghonim. Ghonim gave a tearful interview Tuesday to Dream TV, a private Egyptian channel, in which he called for the protests to continue.
Mubarak has refused to step down, but said neither he nor his son will stand for president in polls due in September. Suleiman, who has been holding talks with opposition groups, said there was now a road map to hand over power, but protesters were unmoved by the plan.
"The people want the regime to fall," the crowds chanted.
The AP meanwhile reported a sense of unease among protesters that, despite their defiance, Mubarak or leaders he has chosen may manage to hang on to power.
Fear is growing that the regime will try to exact revenge in its usual way: with mass arrests and abuse of detainees.
According to the AP, many in Tahrir Square have noticed some in their midst who look out of place, holding up mobile telephones and recording video. The protesters suspect these are undercover police documenting who is attending the protests and fear that if they don't win far-reaching concessions soon, an emboldened security establishment will identify and round them up, one by one.
The U.S. on Tuesday set out four steps Cairo must take to end the crisis. Vice President Joe Biden conveyed the steps to Suleiman on Tuesday, and appeared to rebuff the former intelligence chief.
Biden labeled as "unhelpful" comments by Suleiman on Sunday suggesting that Egypt was not ready for democracy, and a government statement said the emergency law would be lifted "according to the security conditions" — a phrase giving the authorities wide latitude.
The steps, released in a White House statement, are:
- "Restraining the Ministry of Interior's conduct by immediately ending the arrests, harassment, beating, and detention of journalists, and political and civil society activists, and by allowing freedom of assembly and expression;
- "immediately rescinding the emergency law;
- "broadening participation in the national dialogue to include a wide range of opposition members; and,
- "inviting the opposition as a partner in jointly developing a roadmap and timetable for transition."