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Feb. 6, 2011 at 12:24 PM
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Egyptian VP meets foes, offers concessions

CAIRO, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman met with opposition leaders Sunday and reportedly pledged political reform and press freedom.

Suleiman and the opposition groups -- including the Muslim Brotherhood -- will set up a committee to propose constitutional amendments ending the ruling party's monopoly, The Washington Post reported, citing state television.

The government also promised to stop blocking the Internet and harassing journalists.

The Brotherhood had demanded President Hosni Mubarak's immediate resignation before joining talks Saturday, but reversed course Sunday, saying it wished to influence the change of regime.

But not all opposition forces were on board. Former U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei reaffirmed his boycott of talks with the government Sunday.

"I would not talk to these people until Mubarak steps down," he told CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

ElBaradei said a transitional government led by Suleiman alone was unacceptable and a three-member presidential council, of which only one would be Suleiman or another military official, should take over for a year.

"I think any election in the next couple of months -- before the right people establish parties and engage -- it will be again a fake democracy," he said.

Meanwhile, crowds continued to occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square Sunday as banks across the country reopened for the first time in a week, the BBC said.

Opposition journalist Hisham Kassem predicted, "My bet is, the crowd is not going away."

He said the parties negotiating with Suleiman are "completely irrelevant" and "the people on Tahrir Square either wouldn't recognize them, or else would barely give them the time of day."


Albright urges 'rapid' transfer in Egypt

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Sunday "the Mubarak era is over," but Egypt's transition must be orderly.

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Albright said the process should be "rapid ... democratic … inclusive and … represent the will of the Egyptian people.

"There is never an indispensable leader," she added. "There is a time with dignity that one needs to leave.

"The Mubarak era is over, and the question is how to have a process that really works properly, that allows these various voices to come together," Albright said.

John Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, praised Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman's meeting with opposition leaders and said, "Sooner or later this has to move to a negotiating phase from a demonstration phase. It has got to move off the television screens and into the back room, so to speak."

Former Ambassador Edward Walker said President Hosni Mubarak has "done a great many things, terrific things for the country and for us. … He needs to go out with honor. And if we can help him with that, that's what we should be doing."


Cars carrying ethanol derail, catch fire

TOLEDO, Ohio, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Firefighters Sunday worked to extinguish a blaze that broke out when cars on a train carrying ethanol derailed in Hancock County, Ohio.

About 18 tanker cars carrying 320,000 gallons of ethanol derailed about 2 a.m. Sunday and the resulting fireball could be seen up to 15 miles away, WTVG-TV, Toledo, Ohio, reported.

Authorities evacuated a 2 mile area around the fire, but no injuries were reported. All of the 62 cars on the Norfolk Southern train carried ethanol, but crews were able to disconnect cars that didn't derail.

Emergency responders were deciding whether to use foam on the fire or let it burn out. It wasn't known what caused the cars to derail.

Officials from the Ohio office of the Environmental Protection Agency were called to the area to determine if the spill had contaminated nearby waterways.

Emergency responders were concerned that the derailment happened near the Blanchard Valley Co-Op, which had tanks storing fertilizer.

Crews from Norfolk Southern said priority trains would be rerouted to avoid the derailment area.

The train was traveling from Chicago to North Carolina when the derailment occurred.


India recovers pirated ship and crew

MUMBAI, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- A Thai fishing vessel hijacked by pirates six months ago was captured Sunday off India's southwestern coast, navy and coast guard officials said.

The forces received a distress call Saturday night from a Greek ship that pirates were chasing it about 100 miles west of Lakshadweep, The Hindu newspaper reported.

Indian military ships swarmed the area and chased several high-speed skiffs back to the Prantalay 11 fishing vessel, which was overtaken by pirates last year and reportedly used as a "mother ship" for African pirates, the newspaper said.

The pirates opened fire on the coast guard and navy ships, but eventually raised a white flag of surrender, the defense ministry said.

In all, 52 people were taken from the Prantalay, which included the captive crew and about 25 suspected pirates, officials said.

All of them were being taken to Mumbai for questioning, the report said.

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