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Obama calls for restraint, reform in Egypt

Associated Press Modified: January 29, 2011 at 11:13 pm •  Published: January 29, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama issued a plea for restraint in Egypt after meeting with national security aides to assess the Cairo government's response to widespread protests threatening the stability of the country.

A White House statement Saturday said Obama "reiterated our focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint, supporting universal rights, and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform within Egypt."

But Obama offered no reaction to President Hosni Mubarak's decision earlier Saturday to name a vice president for the first time since coming to power nearly 30 years ago. Mubarak appointed his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, who's well respected by American officials. The president also fired his Cabinet.

Five days of protests have left at more than 70 dead.

Before Suleiman's appointment, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. wanted to see Mubarak fulfill his pledges of reform as protests swept the country.

"The Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat," Crowley said on his Twitter account. "President Mubarak's words pledging reform must be followed by action."

Crowley said Egyptians "no longer accept the status quo. They are looking to their government for a meaningful process to foster real reform."

After speaking to Mubarak by telephone late Friday, Obama delivered a four minute statement calling on the Egyptian leader to take steps to democratize his government and refrain from using violence against his people.

As events unfolded Saturday, Obama and his advisers kept a low profile.

The president spent part of the morning watching one of his daughter's basketball games at a community center in the Maryland suburbs.

At the White House, top diplomatic, security and intelligence officials gathered for two hours for review the situation in Egypt. The meeting was led by national security adviser Tom Donilon and included White House chief of staff William Daley and CIA Director Leon Panetta. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Margaret Scobey, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, participated by teleconference, the White House said.

Obama did not attend that session.

His afternoon meeting with many of the same officials also included press secretary Robert Gibbs and adviser David Plouffe.

Suleiman has played an active role in the peace process, particularly in trying to arrange compromise between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas. He has been at the forefront of the Egyptian effort to crackdown on arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.

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