President Barack Obama says he's spoken to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and told him he has a responsibility to take concrete steps to deliver on promises of better democracy and greater economic opportunity.
Obama spoke in the White House State Dining Room shortly after Mubarak appeared on television for the first time since the populace unleashed frenzied protests aimed at ending his 30-year authoritarian rule.
Obama did not call on Mubarak to do so.
Instead he emphasized the need for Mubarak to make reforms and said: "This moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise."
Earlier, the United States threatened to reduce a $1.5 billion program of foreign aid depending on President Mubarak's response to swelling street protests in Cairo and other cities.
"Violence is not the response" to the demands for greater freedoms, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Mubarak asks cabinet to resign
Friday night, President Mubarak asked his cabinet to resign Friday, at the end of a day of violent anti-government protests which claimed the lives of at least 20 demonstrators.
"I support the citizens' future, but Egypt's security as well," the president said in a televised speech. "I won't let anything threaten peace, the rule of law and the country's future.
"I asked the government to submit its resignation," Mubarak said. "I'll form a new government starting tomorrow. I reiterate that I will not hesitate in making any decisions and will defend Egypt and its stability. This is the responsibility I have sworn to take for the homeland."
He expressed his regret over the death of 27 protestors since the riots began several days ago, but defended the security forces' crackdown on protestors.
Mubarak said he would press ahead with social, economic and political reforms, and called anti-government protests part of plot to destabilize Egypt and destroy the legitimacy of his regime.
He called on the protestors to see the country's wellbeing before their eyes. "Setting fire and damaging public and private property cannot satisfy the aspirations of Egypt and its people. These aspirations will be met through actions in favor of the homeland."
He clarified that he supports freedom of expression and promised his citizens a change for the best, "through the reforms we have chosen – we won't go back on them. We have plans to reduce the unemployment level and raise the standard of living. We are determined to maintain our achievements. I won't let fear rule the streets. I am responsible for security."
'Well aware of suffering'
Mubarak reminded the protestors that Egypt was the largest country in the region, in terms of its population and influence.
"We must beware deteriorating into chaos. These protests began with a desire for more democracy, an improvement in the standard of living and resistance to poverty and corruption. I am aware of all these legitimate aspirations and well aware of the suffering. I am working for these things every day. But they will not be achieved through violence and chaos."
Protesters seized the streets of Cairo on Friday, battling police with stones and firebombs, burning down the ruling party headquarters, and defying a night curfew enforced by a military deployment. It is the peak of unrest posing the most dire threat to Mubarak in his three decades of authoritarian rule.
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