Oil over $100 as Egypt protests intensifyBy Javier Blas in Geneva, Roula Khalaf in London, Michael Peel in Cairo
January 31 2011
Oil prices broke through the $100 a barrel level for the first time in more than two years, amid market fears that Egypt’s turmoil will hit oil flows.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, surged to an intraday high of $101.19 per barrel, the highest since September 2008.
“It is something that we are, as you can imagine for our economy and for the recovery of the global economy, watching quite closely,” said Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary.
“We are extremely concerned about the Middle East situation,” said Marco Dunand, chief executive of Geneva-based Mercuria, one of the world’s biggest oil traders. “This is going to increase volatility substantially.”
Although both the Suez Canal and a pipeline linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean continue to operate, the popular uprising to unseat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, has brought much of the rest of the economy to a halt.
The army said on Monday it would not use force against Egyptians staging protests demanding President Mubarak step down, a statement said. It said “freedom of expression” was guaranteed to all citizens using peaceful means.
This is the first such explicit confirmation by the army that it would not fire at demonstrators who have taken to the streets of Egypt since last week to try to force Mr Mubarak to quit.
Egypt’s new vice-president Omar Suleiman said on Monday he had been asked to start dialogue with “all political forces” – including on constitutional and legislative reform, a key demand voiced by anti-Mubarak protesters.
The constitutional amendments include easing restrictions on those who eligible to run in presidential election. “The president has asked me today to immediately hold contacts with the political forces to start a dialogue about all raised issues that also involve constitutional and legislative reforms in a form that will result in clear proposed amendments and a specific timetable for its implementation,” Mr Suleiman said in a televised address.
Local and foreign companies have suspended operations, while holidaymakers are rushing to airports in an effort to evacuate the country.
As the stand-off between protesters and Mr Mubarak escalates, activists are preparing for what some have dubbed a million-strong march today.
At entrances to Tahrir square in Cairo, young men held up signs saying “One million march. 10am. Down with Mubarak.”
Mr Mubarak, who is facing the gravest threat to his 30-year rule over the Arab world’s most populous country, named a new cabinet to replace ministers close to his son, and presumed heir, Gamal.
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