By Gus Bode

Egyptian protesters defiant as government announces prisoner release, corruption investigation

CAIRO— Thousands of protesters are defiantly maintaining their demonstrations on a central Cairo square despite government efforts to defuse a two-week political crisis that has paralyzed the country.

Opposition leaders insist that President Hosni Mubarak must step down immediately. The government has promised reforms but says the longtime leader should stay in office until September elections.


In the latest concessions, judicial officials promised to start questioning three former ministers and a senior ruling party official on Tuesday on corruption charges. A detained Google Inc. marketing manager also is expected to be released.

Mohammed Eid, a student on Tahrir Square, says “our main objective is for Mubarak to step down. We don’t accept any other concessions.”


With Egypt protests in second week, demonstrators entertain each other to keep morale high

CAIRO— Two rows of men greet demonstrators at the main entrance to Tahrir Square, clapping as people enter and chanting in the rhythms of a traditional Egyptian wedding procession.

“We are becoming bigger!” they shout. “God is Great!”

Inside Cairo’s main square, musicians stroll, a man reads poetry to the crowd and vendors hawk potato chips, tea, hot food — even socks.


Tahrir Square, the scene of deadly battles with firebombs, rocks, horses and camels just last week, has taken on a carnival mood in the past few days as demonstrators try to establish an enduring presence, complete with food and entertainment, in their campaign to demand Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

Fruit vendor Ashraf Gaber, 30, asked people to express themselves in a few words, then wrote their thoughts on pieces of A4 paper he placed on a stack beside him.


AOL to buy Huffington Post news site for $315M; Arianna Huffington to head AOL content

Online company AOL Inc. is buying online news hub Huffington Post in a $315 million deal that represents a bold bet on the future of online news.

The acquisition announced early Monday puts a high-profile exclamation mark on a series of acquisitions and strategic moves engineered by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong in an effort to reshape a fallen Internet icon. AOL was once the king of dial-up online access, known for its ubiquitous CD-ROMs and “You’ve got mail” greeting in its inboxes.

Perhaps just as important as picking up a news site that ranks as one of the top 10 current events and global news sites, AOL will be adding Huffington Post co-founder and media star Arianna Huffington to its management team as part of the deal.

After the acquisition closes later this year, Huffington will be put in charge of AOL’s growing array of content, which includes popular technology sites Endgadget and TechCrunch, local news sites and online mapping service Mapquest.

The price that AOL is paying is “really just the hiring fee to get Arianna,” said technology analyst Rob Enderle. “This is one of those out-of-left-field moves that actually makes a lot of sense. This could put AOL back on the map.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to fight Swedish extradition bid over sex claims in UK court

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in court Monday for a showdown with Swedish authorities to fight an extradition bid over sex crimes allegations.

Assange, wearing a blue suit, was flanked by two prison guards as the hearing opened at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court. Celebrity supporters Jemima Khan, Bianca Jagger and Tony Benn also attended.

Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met during a visit to Stockholm last year. Defense lawyers will argue that he should not be extradited because he has not been charged with a crime, because of flaws in Swedish prosecutors’ case — and because a ticket to Sweden could eventually land him in Guantanamo Bay or on U.S. death row.

American officials are trying to build a criminal case against the secret-spilling site, which has angered Washington by publishing a trove of leaked diplomatic cables and secret U.S. military files. Assange’s lawyers claim the Swedish prosecution is linked to the leaks and politically motivated.

Preliminary defense arguments released by Assange’s legal team claim “there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the U.S. will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.”


People with jobs are less likely to be laid off even as the unemployed struggle to find work

WASHINGTON — The U.S. labor force has been split into two groups: the relieved and the desperate.

If you have a job, you can exhale; you’re less likely to lose it than at any point in at least 14 years.

If you’re unemployed? Good luck. Finding a job remains a struggle 20 months after the recession technically ended. Employers won’t likely step up hiring until they feel more confident about the economy.

A result is that people who are unemployed are staying so for longer periods. Of the 13.9 million Americans the government says were unemployed last month, about 1.8 million had been without work for at least 99 weeks — essentially two years. That’s nearly double the number in January 2010.

Yet the deep job cuts of the recession have long since ended. In January, companies announced plans to trim fewer than 39,000 jobs, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That was 46 percent fewer than a year earlier. More strikingly, it was the fewest number of planned layoffs in January since Challenger began keeping track in 1993. For all of 2010, planned layoffs hit a 13-year low.