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Egypt should lift ban on protests: US

White House on Wednesday urged its key ally Egypt to lift a ban on protests.



Manitowoc: The White House on Wednesday urged its key ally Egypt to lift a ban on protests after security forces arrested at least 500 people and threatened a crackdown on widespread demonstrations.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One that it was important for the Egyptian government of President Hosni Mubarak to demonstrate "responsiveness" to its people.

Asked whether the Egyptian interior ministry ban on demonstrations should be lifted, Gibbs said: "Again, yes. We`re supportive of the universal rights of assembly and speech. Those are universal values."

"We have a close and important ally in Egypt and they will continue to be," Gibbs said, as US President Barack Obama flew to the midwestern state of Wisconsin to tout his economic plans a day after his State of the Union address.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, addressing reporters in Washington, called for Egypt to seize "an important opportunity" for reform and also asked for an end to restrictions on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

"We call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence," Clinton told reporters after talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

The comments come after Obama in his big speech saluted the Tunisian protesters, saying: "The will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator."

White House afterward issued a nuanced written statement in Obama`s name on Egypt.

"The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper," the statement said.

"The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals," it added.

The statement also underlined US support for basic democratic freedoms in Egypt.

"We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," the statement said.

Clinton, asked Wednesday about the administration`s fine line, said that the United States wanted to work both with the government and with civil society in the longstanding ally.

"I do think it`s possible for there to be reforms and that is what we are urging," she said.

"It is something that everybody knows must be on the agenda for the government as they not just respond to the protests but as they look beyond as to what needs to be done -- economically, socially, politically," she said.

The unprecedented protests against Mubarak`s 30-year reign were inspired by similar unrest in Tunisia which forced out president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Egypt, in the the largest and most significant since riots over bread subsidies shook the Arab world`s most populous nation in 1977.

Earlier Wednesday, the top Republican in the Senate Mitch McConnell called Egypt "an extremely important ally" but declined to support Mubarak.

"All I could say this morning is that Egypt has been an extremely important ally of ours since Anwar Sadat, and we`re all watching these developments in Cairo very carefully," said McConnell.

"Beyond that, I think I will not comment this morning, but they are an extremely important ally of ours," he told MSNBC television.

Bureau Report

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