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CAIRO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - President Hosni Mubarak, facing a popular revolt against his rule, ordered his new cabinet on Sunday to preserve subsidies, control inflation and provide more jobs, state television reported.
Protesters who have rocked the nation of 80 million people, a key U.S. ally in the Arab world, complain about surging prices and the gap between rich and poor but have also called for a new political system.
Mubarak sacked his cabinet on Saturday after days of unprecedented demonstrations across the country, appointing former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq as his new prime minister. But Shafiq has yet to name his cabinet.
“I require you to bring back confidence in our economy,” Mubarak said in a letter to Shafiq read on TV. “I trust your ability to implement economic policies that accord the highest concern to people’s suffering.”
“I stress that subsidy provisions in their different forms must not be tampered with and that your government just challenge all forms of corruption,” Mubarak said.
Mubarak’s letter to Shafiq hinted opposition parties could gain more freedoms but was short on specifics.
“I also stress the need for moving seriously and effectively towards more political reforms, in the constitution and legislation, via extensive dialogue with the parties ... allowing their wider participation.”
Mubarak said Egyptians had expressed their legitimate demands during the past week of protests but that “religious slogans” had penetrated their ranks — a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group banned by the government.
He said they had “striven to cause chaos”, leading to the disorder and looting of recent days.
Security forces suddenly withdrew from the streets of Egyptian cities en masse on Friday after spending the day combating the protests.
A report on the state news agency Mena on Sunday night said Mubarak had also discussed political reforms with U.S. President Barack Obama in a telephone call.
“(Mubarak) expressed his determination to continue with more steps on political reform that respond to the aspirations of the Egyptian people for a free, democratic society,” the agency said.
The six days of unrest have killed more than 100 people, rattled global investors and stunned regional and Western leaders who looked to Mubarak as a bulwark against Islamists and support for Middle East peace negotiations.
Army troops have left Egyptians to express their rage at Mubarak’s 30 years of autocracy, though the generals have yet to show whether they will keep the 82-year-old leader on or ease him out.
Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out on Jan. 14 when his army refused to crush weeks of street protests with similar complaints against poverty, corruption and political repression. (Reporting by Andrew Hammond and Yasmine Saleh, Writing by Andrew Hammond and Edmund Blair)