- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The White House condemned the outbreak of bloody clashes in Cairo on Wednesday, calling scenes of pro- and anti-government protesters stoning and beating each other in the streets “outrageous and deplorable.”

But even as the Obama administration urged Egyptian authorities to refrain from violence, it stopped short of demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate resignation.

“Obviously if any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. “This underscores precisely what the president was speaking about last night, and that is the time for a transition has come and that time is now. The Egyptian people need to see change.”

Mr. Gibbs sidestepped questions about what that change would look like and refused to specify what kind of role President Obama wants Mr. Mubarak to play in a transitional government. He stressed that Mr. Obama was “frank” in a Tuesday evening telephone call with the Egyptian leader.

Violence erupted less than a full day after Mr. Obama implored Mr. Mubarak’s regime to keep the transition to a more representative government peaceful, underscoring the limits of the president’s influence on a volatile situation across the world as protesters seek freedoms they’ve been denied under Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

An accurate death toll was hard to come by as the crisis snowballed. An Egyptian government official told a state-run TV station that at least three people were killed and more than 600 injured during the protests Wednesday while a top United Nations official cited unconfirmed reports putting the tally of dead as high as 300.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the situation as “uncharted territory” in a previously scheduled speech to U.S. diplomats in Washington Wednesday, saying officials need to be “more nimble” in responding to an increasingly complex environment.

“Recent events in Egypt and certainly in that broader region remind us all how crucial it is to have top-notch leadership on the ground and how quickly that ground can shift under our feet,” she said. “From the theft of confidential cables to 21st century protest movements, to development breakthroughs that have the potential to change millions of lives, we are all in uncharted territory.”

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday’s events highlight the urgency of the situation, warning that the longer it remains unresolved the more likely it will continue to be violent.

“These demonstrators are not going away,” Mr. Crowley told reporters. “They’re sending a clear message. It’s important for the government, opposition figures, members of civil society to come together, have a serious conversation and begin the process that leads to genuine democratic elections.”

Asked whether Mr. Obama believes that Mr. Mubarak is a dictator, Mr. Gibbs said the longtime U.S. ally “has a chance to show the world exactly who he is by beginning this transition that is so desperately needed in his country and for his people now.”

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