US & Canada

Egypt unrest: John Kerry says Mubarak should step aside

Leading US Democratic Senator John Kerry has urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to pledge neither he nor his son will stand in this year's presidential election.

Mr Kerry, writing in the New York Times, said Mr Mubarak had to accept Egypt's stability "hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully".

He is the highest-level US politician to push for Mr Mubarak to stand down.

Mr Kerry also said the United States "must look beyond the Mubarak era".

The BBC's Paul Adams, in Washington, says Mr Kerry is an influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is close to the White House so his views carry weight

'Beyond his regime'

Mr Kerry said Mr Mubarak's declared intention to hold fair elections was insufficient.

"The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year," he wrote, referring to Gamal Mubarak.

"Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation."

He called on the US to offer "real assistance" to the Egyptian people, noting most US aid to Egypt goes to the military.

"The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked 'made in America' fired at protesters, US-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo," he wrote. "Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt."

Diplomat to Cairo

The White House has publicly trodden a more cautious line on the Egyptian turmoil.

BBC North America Mark Mardell says that while the White House continues to insist it is not the job of the US government to pick leaders, the strong view in Washington is that it wants Mr Mubarak to go, and the army to take over until elections can be held - but Mr Obama believes it is counter productive to say so in public.

A US state department spokesman on Monday declined to say Mr Mubarak should not stand for re-election, declaring "these are decisions to be made inside Egypt".

The US has despatched to Cairo a veteran diplomat with close ties to the Mubarak government. Frank Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt, was to meet with Egyptian government officials.

On Tuesday, the US state department said it was ordering all non-emergency US government staff and their families to evacuate Egypt.

The state department said it would continue to help evacuate citizens, but warned disruptions at the airport and in city streets could delay departures.

US evacuations

The US has evacuated more than 1,200 Americans and expects to fly out 1,400 more in the coming days.

On Tuesday the state department said chartered evacuation flights would leave from Alexandria, Aswan and Luxor, in addition to Cairo.

And it warned US citizens to steer clear of demonstrations.

"Even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse," the state department said. "If caught unexpectedly near a demonstration, US citizens should obey instructions from police and leave the area as quickly as possible."

Canada and several European and Asian countries have also evacuated citizens on chartered flights.

A Canadian embassy official in Cairo told the BBC that two planes had left with Canadian citizens on Monday and none had yet left on Tuesday.

"We're doing the best we can on the ground here to get citizens out," he said. "It's obviously a very fluid situation. Yesterday was quite positive. Today, as things continue to escalate and people get more concerned, that may change."

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