- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CAIRO (AP) | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waded into crowds Wednesday at the symbolic heart of the uprising that toppled Egypt’s longtime autocratic leader, urging the country’s temporary leaders not to allow the revolution to fizzle or be compromised by extremists.

Mrs. Clinton heaped praise on the anti-government demonstrators whose peaceful protests in the central square ousted President Hosni Mubarak and said she hoped people everywhere would look back on the revolt and regard it as “one of the most important historic turning points” in the Middle East.

“The pyramids are magnificent but nowhere near as magnificent as what you have already done,” she told American and local Egyptian employees at the U.S. Embassy.

She called on them to help protect the achievement so that “no one is permitted to hijack this revolution, no one is permitted to turn the clock back on this revolution, no one is permitted to claim it for only one group of Egyptians and exclude other Egyptians.”

“That will be the challenge,” she said. “And we will help in any way possible.”

Surrounded by a heavy contingent of U.S. and Egyptian security guards, Mrs. Clinton took an unscheduled 15-minute stroll through the square, smiling, waving and shaking hands with bystanders who thronged her.

Many thanked her for visiting the epicenter of the anti-government demonstrations, while others fought for a glimpse or a photo of the secretary of state, the highest level U.S. official to visit Egypt since Mr. Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11.

“It’s just a great reminder of the power of the human spirit and universal desire for freedom and human rights and democracy,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she navigated the square. “It’s just thrilling to see where this happened.”

Mrs. Clinton’s two-day visit to Egypt is aimed at encouraging the Egyptian people and their transitional leaders to hold true to the ideals of democratic reforms that propelled the revolution.

Her trip underscores U.S. concern that gains made since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster may be lost to impatience or to the rise of an extremist or authoritarian new leadership.

And it comes as the Obama administration sharpens its criticism of Bahrain and its Persian Gulf neighbors, with Mrs. Clinton saying they are on the “wrong track” by trying to quell unrest with troops instead of democratic reforms.

Soldiers and riot police expelled hundreds of protesters from a square in Bahrain’s capital, using tear gas and armored vehicles. At least five people were killed Wednesday as clashes flared across the kingdom, according to witnesses and officials.

Mrs. Clinton called the situation “alarming.”

“The only way forward is to resolve the legitimate differences of the Bahrainis themselves,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters. “We have deplored the use of force. We have said not only to the Bahrainis but to our Gulf partners that we do not think security is the answer to what is going on.”

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