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Peres welcomes Arab democracy; Egypt forms cabinet

During a visit to Madrid yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the anti-government protests sweeping the Arab world that have toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt are an “opportunity for peace” in the Middle East. “We believe that the biggest guarantee of peace is having democracy in our neighbours. We are happy to witness this democratic revolution which is taking place in the Arab world,” he said here in an address to the Spanish parliament. “Now is precisely the time to resume the talks between us and the Palestinians. I say to our Palestinian neighbours: ‘Let’s return immediately to the negotiating table’. This storm is also an opportunity for peace.”

The Egyptian military yesterday swore in a new cabinet in an attempt to stabilize the political system after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak from the presidency. The cabinet includes 11 new ministers, while retaining former members of Mubarak’s government in senior posts. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has held the defence ministry’s top position for 20 years, made the announcement yesterday and took the new minister’s oath of office. The key portfolios of defence, interior, foreign, finance and justice were unchanged in the cabinet reshuffle. The new cabinet includes independents and members of the opposition parties for the first time in decades. It also includes two politicians from the Coptic Christian minority, which represent 10% of the population. However, opposition groups condemned the decision to allow ministers who served under Mubarak to retain power.

Unrest continued in Libya yesterday with widespread reports of violence against protestors. Key figures in Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s administration have resigned their posts and joined the call to oust Gaddafi immediately. These include Gaddafi’s longtime interior minister and senior military commander. The besieged leader of Libya, meanwhile vowed to hang on to power and threatened violence against the opposition. Gaddafi is facing increasing international isolation after Libya was condemned by the UN Security Council and suspended from the Arab League.