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US Decries Use of 'Thugs' Against Egyptian Protesters

Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, on horses and a camel, clash with anti-regime protesters in Cairo on February 2, 2011

The United States Wednesday condemned what it says was the use of "thugs" against democracy demonstrators in central Cairo. A senior official said President Hosni Mubarak has little time left to prove he can preside over the reform process he has promised.

The Obama administration has refrained thus far from flatly calling for President Mubarak to step down.

But officials here are expressing outrage over Wednesday’s attacks on protesters by what they term "thugs" supporting the besieged Egyptian leader.

One senior official said while President Mubarak wants to remain in office pending elections for a successor, he now only has a "narrow amount of time" to prove that he can lead a credible reform process.

Related video report by Mohamed ElShinnawi and Laurel Bowman

Echoing earlier comments from the White House calling Wednesday’s violence "outrageous and deplorable", State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the appearance on the streets of pro-Mubarak forces attacking demonstrators "changed the dynamic" of an already difficult situation.

"Let me differentiate between those who can bring forward their perspective on current events, as opposed to the thugs that we saw on the streets today, who are clearly trying to intimidate those people who have been peacefully protesting and expressing their strong views about a different kind of future for Egypt, "said P.J. Crowley. "We don’t know who unleashed these people. But there should be full accountability."

Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mr. Mubarak’s newly appointed Vice president Omar Suleiman to call for an inquiry into the Wednesday violence.

The spokesman also said that retired senior U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner left Cairo Wednesday after meeting President Mubarak and Suleiman, Egypt’s former intelligence chief.

Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, is said to have delivered in person the message President Obama and other U.S. officials have stressed publicly in recent days, that a process of transition in Egypt must begin immediately.

The senior official who spoke to reporters here, asked why Wisner had been recalled so quickly, said only that his mission "had gone as far as it could."

The official said there is sentiment at the highest level of the Cairo government that they can outlast the demonstrators, but said in the U.S. view that is a "flawed assumption".