Egyptian gas pipeline attacked

State television blames "terrorist operation", as vice president prepares to meet prominent Egyptian figures

Egyptian gas pipeline attacked

Saboteurs blew up a gas pipeline, state television said on Saturday, adding fresh turmoil to Egypt during unprecedented protests to end the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

State TV quoted an official as saying that the "situation is very dangerous and explosions were continuing from one spot to another" along the pipeline which runs through North Sinai.

"It is a big terrorist operation", a state TV reporter said.

A security source said the Egyptian army closed the main source of gas supplying the pipeline.

Another security source in North Sinai said it was the Jordanian branch of the pipeline, not the one leading to Israel, blaming the attack on "foreign elements".

Israel Radio said the Egypt-Israel pipeline was not damaged, but the supply stopped as a precaution.

The attack happened as demonstrations against Mubarak entered their 12th day, with no sign of an end to the confrontation which has pitted the 82-year-old leader against thousands of anti-government protesters.

Mubarak, who has pledged to step down in September, claimed on Thursday he believed Egypt would descend into chaos if he were to give in to protesters' demands that he quit immediately.

"Saboteurs took advantage of the security situation and blew up the gas pipeline," a state television correspondent said.

The SITE intelligence group said earlier this week some groups had been urging to attack the pipeline to Israel.

The government in the past has used a perceived threat from 'Islamist militancy' to justify its use of emergency laws which helped keep Mubarak in power.

State TV said the pipeline that was attacked supplied both the Israeli and Jordanian gas lines. Residents in the area also reported a huge explosion and said flames were raging in an area near the pipeline in the El-Arish area of north Sinai.

Protests continue

Vice President Omar Suleiman was due to meet a group of prominent figures on Saturday to examine a proposed solution under which he would assume the president's powers for an interim period, one of the group's members said.

But with protesters insisting they wanted not just Mubarak but also his allies out, it was unclear that would be enough to end the crisis.

In Cairo's Tahrir Square, the hub of demonstrations, protesters occupying the usually busy intersection in the heart of the city said they were not giving up.

"Leave, leave, leave," people camped out in the square -- scene of violent clashes this week between anti-government protesters and Mubarak loyalists -- chanted.

"We are not leaving the square until our demands are met," one of them shouted over a loudspeaker, after a relatively peaceful night where some sang patriotic songs and chanted poetry over loudspeakers talking of victory over Mubarak.

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians held mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country on Friday.

Ex-intelligence chief Suleiman was due to discuss with the group of prominent figures an article in the constitution covering Mubarak handing over power to his vice president, one of the group's members, Diaa Rashwan, told Reuters.

Mubarak would stay on in a symbolic position under the proposal being promoted by the group of Egyptians calling itself the "The Council of Wise Men", allowing him to serve out his tenure with some dignity.

Some protesters however say they want a complete break with the past, while Obama has also called for "meaningful" change.

And while some analysts say transferring powers to Suleiman could help defuse the crisis, others argue it needs a bigger step shift to pave the way for free and fair elections.

"The best way to support democracy is to support democracy; not to enable authoritarians to take over the political system and hope they'll negotiate their way out of power," Steven Cook at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations said on its website.

Responding to speculation that such a scenario might happen, the prime minister said on Friday that it was unlikely the president would hand presidential powers to his newly appointed deputy, Al Arabiya television reported.

"We need the president to stay for legislative reasons," Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was quoted as saying in a headline.

"Article 189"

"The Council of Wise Men" are focusing on Article 139 of the constitution, which says the president may appoint one or more vice presidents, "define their jurisdictions and relieve them of their posts".

But Article 82 could present a legal complication. It says that while the president is able to delegate powers to a deputy, that person is not allowed to request constitutional amendments or dissolve the parliament or shura councils.

If that article holds, it would be impossible for a Suleiman-led administration to carry out the constitutional reforms promised by Mubarak in response to the protests.

Without constitutional changes, a presidential election in September would have to run under the same rules that opposition parties say stack all the cards in favour of Mubarak's ruling party and effectively rule out an effective rival bid.

Ahmed Kamal Aboul Magd, a prominent lawyer and one of the so-called Wise Men, said he had met Suleiman on Friday and proposed Suleiman take Mubarak's powers. He said the vice president had not discussed it.

Amr Hamzawy, a prominent political analyst and also a member of the council, said the solution would bring about a transitional government.

"The council demands that the president hands all presidential powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman for the transitional period of power, ending with Mubarak's term," Hamzawy said.

Suleiman, 74, was appointed by Mubarak last week -- the first time he had appointed a deputy in three decades in charge of the Arab world's most populous country. It is the post Mubarak held before he became president.

Rashwan said opposition figures had expressed support for the proposal to switch powers to Suleiman. "The only way forward is for Mubarak to give up power to Suleiman," he said.

"The opposition leadership is so divided that no clear option is available outside the ruling establishment," he added.

The unprecedented challenge to Mubarak has rallied many different strands of society -- professionals and the poor, secular and religious, Muslims and Christians, internet-savvy youth with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The United Nations estimates 300 people have died in the unrest, inspired in part by protests in Tunisia which forced veteran strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month.

Reuters

 

Last Mod: 05 Şubat 2011, 10:39
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