Middle East

Egypt unrest: Omar Suleiman appeals for patience

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Media captionVice-President Omar Suleiman: "We have a plan that will start with dialogue"

Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman has appealed for time to carry out political reforms before presidential elections in September.

He warned there would be a political vacuum if a proper period of transition was not allowed.

President Hosni Mubarak has agreed to step down in September, but protesters want him to leave power immediately.

The appeal follows a day of violence in central Cairo, with protesters pushing back Mr Mubarak's supporters.

Stones were thrown on both sides, and there has been some gunfire.

The army, which was trying to separate the two sides, appears to have failed to control the crowds.

Egypt's Health Minister Ahmed Samih Farid said that eight people had died in the fighting, which began on Wednesday, and 890 were injured, nine of them critically.

Another person was later reported killed in clashes on Abdel Monem Riyad Square, also in central Cairo. Many more were injured.

The BBC's Khaled Ezzelarab in Cairo says the shift in focus from Tahrir Square to Abdel Monem Riyad Square appears to indicate a strategic advance for the anti-Mubarak protesters, who have managed to hold their ground in Tahrir and move the clashes elsewhere.

Meanwhile US state department spokesman Philip Crowley has urged Mr Mubarak to move "farther and faster" with the transition.

'Political vacuum'

Mr Suleiman said it was essential to keep existing institutions in place until September.

"The youth were demanding the abolition of the [parliament]," he said in an interview broadcast on state TV.

"That means we would be unable to look into the issue of constitutional reforms. There has to be a parliament so that these reforms can be looked into and studied and discussed... The September date is a necessity. We have to commit, we have to adhere to it, otherwise we will have a political vacuum."

He also said that Mr Mubarak's son Gamal, like his father, would not stand for president in September.

But the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says some parts of Mr Suleiman's interview were more sinister.

He said there had been a plot in Egypt and those responsible would be held accountable.

He said the popular Islamist opposition party the Muslim Brotherhood had been invited to talks.

"They're still hesitant to enter dialogue but I believe it's in their interests," he told state TV.

The party has previously rejected government calls for negotiations, saying Mr Mubarak must leave office first.

He pledged to investigate the violence, calling it a "disaster".

BBC correspondents in central Cairo say that fighting between supporters and opponents of Mr Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, are continuing in the darkness.

Tension is also high in the second city, Alexandria, where one of the country's largest shopping malls has been ransacked by looters.

'Great destruction'

Separately, foreign journalists reporting for several organisations were attacked, with reports of Mubarak supporters said to have stormed a number of Cairo hotels.

Some journalists were beaten with sticks and had their equipment smashed.

The New York Times said that two reporters had been released after being detained overnight on Thursday.

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Media captionThe BBC's Jim Muir in Tahrir Square: "I'm in the middle of a pitched battle"

US state department spokesman PJ Crowley said the US condemned such actions, calling them part of "a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting".

And in a separate development, the public prosecutor issued a travel ban on three former ministers and a senior member of the ruling party, among them the unpopular former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly.

Correspondents say these legal measures against some of the most powerful people in the country are confirmation of a deep split within the ruling elite.

The public prosecutor's statement said other officials were covered by the ban, which would last "until national security is restored and the authorities and monitoring bodies have undergone their investigations".

Unrest has left about 300 people dead across the country over the past 10 days, according to UN estimates.

If Mr Mubarak does not step down, demonstrators have planned to march on the presidential palace on Friday.

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