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Third week of protests begins in Cairo

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Mubarak's government is trying to "asphyxiate" protests, activist says
  • NEW: Amre Moussa says Mubarak should have a "dignified exit"
  • "I am not a hero," freed Google exec says in emotional interview
  • U.S. says opposition talks aren't "broad-based enough"

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Egypt's revolt entered its third week Tuesday as anti-government protesters formed a human chain in Cairo's Tahrir Square, vowing not to budge until President Hosni Mubarak and those around him are forced from office.

"Tahrir Square wants Mubarak to go as soon as possible, but it also wants the dismantling of his regime," actor Khalid Abdalla, the star of the 2007 film "The Kite Runner," said Monday. "It wants the dismantling of the police state. It wants the dismantling of the emergency law. It wants the dissolution of the parliament, which was corruptly elected."

Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981, aided by an emergency decree that gives him sweeping powers. Since the protests began January 25, he has appointed a vice president for the first time, reshuffled his cabinet and announced that he won't seek a new term in September. His new deputy, longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, has been holding talks with opposition parties in hopes of creating a smooth transition, and key members of the ruling National Democratic Party --including Mubarak's son Gamal -- resigned from leadership positions Saturday.

But not all opposition leaders are on board with the talks, and the protesters in Tahrir Square say they won't let up until Mubarak leaves. Analysts like Mahmoun Fandy, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, said Mubarak appears to be falling back on tried-and-true methods of dealing with dissidents.

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"It's very typical of the Mubarak regime," Fandy said. "In every issue in the world, it's all about stalling tactics, about waiting it out -- people will forget about the issue, and then we move on."

The government tried to restore a sense of normalcy on Monday, scaling back its curfew order to 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- substantially shorter than it was last week, when the curfew began in mid-afternoon. More shops and banks reopened, and newly appointed Finance Minister Samir Radwan said the government would issue up to 15 billion Egyptian pounds (about $2.5 billion) in treasury bills when Cairo's stock market reopens Sunday.

The response to the auction could indicate how international investors gauge the situation in Egypt and whether investor confidence is actually returning to a country where endemic poverty is one of the key drivers of the protests that began January 25.

Sherief Gaber, an Egyptian-American graduate student who has joined the demonstrations, told CNN's "John King USA" that police and intelligence agencies have turned to harassing opposition supporters in a bid to "asphyxiate" the protests.

"It's less camera-friendly than when you have thousands of thugs descending with Molotov cocktails and, you know, stones and rocks and rifles," Gaber said. "So it's just a change of tactics."

But some leading Egyptian figures say Mubarak should be allowed to remain in office. Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa, who visited the Tahrir Square protest last week, told CNN that the 82-year-old president should be allowed a "dignified exit" in September.

"I believe that the president should stay until the end of his mandate. The consensus is growing on this point because of certain constitutional considerations," Moussa told CNN on Monday.

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Moussa, who was once Mubarak's foreign minister, has been seen as a possible presidential candidate. But he told CNN, "I'm giving all my focus now and my efforts to help the current situation."

Crowds of pro-Mubarak demonstrators attacked the protests in Tahrir Square last week, and journalists and human rights activists have been arrested or beaten by pro-government mobs in what the U.S. State Department has said was a "concerted effort" to shut down outside observers.

A Google executive who had been missing since January 28 was released from government custody Monday. Wael Ghonim told Egypt's Dream TV that he had been seized around 1 a.m. as he tried to catch a cab.

"I found all of a sudden four people surrounding me. They were kidnapping me," he said. "I yelled, 'Help me,' but of course I knew these were security forces."

Ghonim, a Dubai-based marketing executive, joined the protests that began January 25. He walked out of the Dream TV interview in tears after being shown photos of those killed in the uprising.

"I want to say to every mother and every father that lost his child, I am sorry, but this is not our fault," he said before leaving. "I swear to God this is not our fault. It is the fault of everyone who was holding onto power greedily and would not let it go."

Egyptian officials hadn't acknowledged he was in their custody until Sunday night. Ghonim tweeted after his release that Hosam Badrawi, the newly named secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party, was behind his release -- and that he had asked Badrawi to resign. But he told Dream TV, "I am not a hero."

"I slept for 12 days," he said. "The heroes were in the street. The heroes are the ones that went to the demonstrations. The heroes are the ones that sacrificed their lives. The heroes are the ones that were beaten. The heroes are the ones that were arrested and were exposed to dangers."

In Sunday's talks with Suleiman, government and opposition leaders agreed to lift the emergency law at some future date, according to state-run television. The two sides also discussed steps to ensure free media and communication, and plans to form a series of committees that would oversee changes aimed at bringing about a representative government.

One of the groups represented in the meeting was the Muslim Brotherhood -- a group that, days ago, had said it would not negotiate until Mubarak left office. Members of the liberal parties Wafd and Ahrar have also engaged in talks with the newly appointed Suleiman. Leaders of the Brotherhood, an opposition Islamist umbrella group that is officially banned but tolerated, said they insisted on an investigation into last week's clashes in Tahrir Square and called for those responsible be brought to justice in Egyptian courts.

But some opposition figures also questioned the government's sincerity in Sunday's meeting, saying the talks and suggestions of possible agreement might be tricks intended to end the demonstrations with Mubarak still in power. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told CNN there was "a huge question of credibility" involving the government.

And in Washington, a State Department spokesman said the talks "are not broad-based enough."

The spokesman, P.J. Crowley, refused to say who should be included -- but he told reporters that "major figures in Egyptian society" have not been invited. The State Department had welcomed the Suleiman's plans to meet with the opposition, but Crowley said Monday that the demonstrators should "test" the government's real motives.

"There are people who are holding the transition process at arm's length because they don't believe it's going to be credible," he said. "And our advice would be, you know, test the seriousness of the government and those who are participating to see if it can deliver, and from this people have confidence that change is actually going to occur."

The United States is Egypt's leading ally, providing about $1.3 billion in annual military aid as well as millions in economic assistance. Egypt's continued observance of the Camp David peace accords with Israel is the cornerstone of what peace has been achieved in the region.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Amir Ahmed, Leone Lakhani, Frederik Pleitgen, Nic Robertson, Ivan Watson, Tommy Evans and Jill Doughterty contributed to this report.

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