'Critical' for Egypt to move ahead with transition: US

8th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday said it was "critical" that Egypt's government fulfill its promises and move ahead with a democratic transition after two weeks of mass street protests.

In his first public remarks on the crisis, Gates said the United States had long urged Egypt and other governments in the region to heed the political and economic grievances of a frustrated younger generation.

The United States supported an orderly transition from President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, "but it needs to be a transition that continues to move forward," Gates said.

"And a transition where people can see a steady pace in implementing the number of reforms that have been announced and to which the Egyptian government has committed," said Gates at a joint news conference with French Defense Minister Alain Juppe.

Gates said that "continuing to move forward with this and fulfilling the promises that have been made I think is quite critical."

The Pentagon chief praised the role of the Egyptian military as "exemplary" and said the army -- which has longstanding ties to Washington -- had acted with restraint throughout days of protests.

Juppe called for a peaceful, swift political transition with "free and fair" elections.

Egyptian leaders have long claimed the country faces a choice between the regime and "Islamic chaos," but "it is necessary today to bet on the emergence of democratic forces," Juppe said.

"We hope the process will take place without violence and as soon as possible," the defense minister said.

Asked about a possible ripple effect influencing US allies across the region, Gates said leaders in the Middle East needed to confront long-simmering popular frustrations.

"What we have seen take place in Tunisia and Egypt is a spontaneous manifestation of discontent. We have known about these grievances for a long time," said Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"And we have spoken to a number of governments in the region over time about the need to address these concerns."

He expressed hope "that other governments in the region, seeing this spontaneous action in both Tunisia and Egypt, will take measures to begin moving in a positive direction toward addressing the political and economic grievances of their people."

© 2011 AFP

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