Mubarak Moves To Restart Economy

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has held talks with ministers to try to revive an economy hit by a wave of anti-government protests. Banks will reopen on Sunday and the stock market on Monday, as Finance Minister Samir Radwan said the economic situation was

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has held talks with ministers to try to revive an economy hit by a wave of anti-government protests.

Substantial numbers of protesters remain in Cairo's Tahrir SquareBanks will reopen on Sunday and the stock market on Monday, as Finance Minister Samir Radwan said the economic situation was "very serious".

Analysts say the uprising is costing the country at least $310m a day.

Protesters remain in Cairo's Tahrir Square following Friday's mass rally calling for Mr Mubarak to resign.

Separately on Saturday, there were also reports of an explosion at a pipeline that supplies gas to Israel and Jordan. The blast caused a fire near el-Arish, Egyptian state television reported.

'Solid base'

Mr Mubarak has said he will not stand for re-election in September but insists he must stay until then to prevent chaos in the country. Protesters demand that he goes immediately.

On Saturday, the president met the prime minister, finance minister, oil minister and trade and industry minister, along with the central bank governor.

Banks and the stock exchange have been closed for days, and many factories in the major cities have shut.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly, in Cairo, says the paralysis induced by the protests is having a huge impact on the creaking economy. Tourists have been frightened away and the prices of basic goods like cigarettes and bread have been soaring.

He says many Egyptians are beginning to wonder aloud how quickly daily life will return to normal regardless of the outcome of the struggle for power.

Egypt unrest: Protests mapSpeaking to the BBC, Mr Radwan admitted the economy faced a "very serious" situation and that he was in constant touch with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

But he also said the economy had a "solid base" and "so far, we are coping".

Economists at Credit Agricole say the uprising is costing the country at least $310m (£192m) a day and they have revised down their economic growth estimate for Egypt this year from 5.3% to 3.7%.

Mr Radwan also said there would be a meeting with opposition groups to try to end the 12 days of protests.

He said Vice-President Omar Suleiman and "almost certainly Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq" would attend, adding that they would have "sufficient authority to negotiate with the opposition".

He did not say which opposition groups would attend. Egyptian television said the al-Wafd and Al-Tajammu parties would be at the talks.

But the country's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and another opposition figure - former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei - have not yet said they will take part.

Mr Radwan said the transition of power had already begun, with Mr Mubarak saying he would not run again for president.

"It is setting a process in place to ensure a smooth transition of power without falling into the trap of the chaos scenario," he said.

In an earlier interview with CNN, Mr Radwan apologised for the "harsh treatment" suffered by protesters and journalists at the hands of government forces.

Cairo protesters gather for a "Day of Departure" rally in Tahrir Square.

"I inquired and I was told that there is zero tolerance of this government on attacks against foreigners, let alone journalists whom we need to have them on our side, to watch this situation unfold and convey a much better image to the outside world," he said.

Saturday's pipeline explosion targeted supplies to Israel and Jordan from Egypt's Port Said.

Gas was shut off and the fire was brought under control by mid-morning, state television said.

It also reported that the curfew had now been shortened and would be in effect from 1900 to 0600 local time (1700-0400 GMT).

'Meaningful and serious'

On Friday, US President Barack Obama again called for an "orderly transition" of power.

Mr Obama did not insist that Mr Mubarak step down immediately, but repeated his call for a "transition period that begins now".

"He needs to listen to what is voiced by the people and make a judgment about a pathway forward that is orderly, that is meaningful and serious," he said.

On Friday huge crowds demonstrated across Egypt for an 11th day.

More than 100,000 people - including large numbers of women and children - gathered in Tahrir Square for what was being called the "day of departure".

There were also demonstrations in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, and in the towns of Suez, Port Said, Rafah, Ismailiya, Zagazig, al-Mahalla al-Kubra, Aswan and Asyut.

However, there were suggestions that the protesters would now reduce their presence in central Cairo.

One of their leaders, George Ishaq of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, told the BBC: "Protesters will remain in Tahrir Square on all days of the week. But each Friday, there will be a demonstration like today."

The UN believes more than 300 have died across Egypt since the protests began on 25 January, with about 4,000 hurt.

BBC