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Egypt Unrest
Mubarak blinks, but doesn’t go
Says he will transfer powers to Vice-President; protesters furious

Cairo, February 10
Hosni Mubarak, struggling to cling on as Egypt's President in the face of unprecedented protests over poverty, corruption and oppression, said today he would transfer powers to his Vice-President.

In an address that failed to meet demands by protesters for him to step down immediately, Mubarak, 82, appeared to step aside by handing over the reins of power to his deputy, Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief trusted by Washington.

Protesters in Tahrir Square, waved their shoes in dismay at the speech, shouting: "Down, Down, Hosni Mubarak" enraged by the fact that the President had not stepped down. Mubarak repeated that he would not stand for the presidency in a September poll and said talks with the opposition, which would have been unthinkable before January 25 when protests began, had led to preliminary consensus to resolve the crisis.

Egypt was heading to a peaceful transfer of power, said the President, stating that he believed in the honesty of the protesters' demands and intentions but underlining his rejection of foreign powers dictating events in his country.

Mubarak said he felt the pain of those who had lost family in the protests and that he was responding to the nation's demands with commitment and said those who had died, put at possibly 300 by the United Nations, had not died in vain.

Earlier in the day, the military high command took control of the nation in what some called a military coup after two weeks of unprecedented protests. Anything less than quitting could provoke a powerful reaction from the street where the core of protesters want his immediate resignation and reject any political manoeuvring that allows him to stay on in some capacity, perhaps as a figurehead.

The armed forces, issuing what they labelled "Communique No.1", announced they were moving to preserve the nation and the aspirations of the people. The Higher Army Council met to try to calm an earthquake of unrest which has shocked the Middle East.

News that Mubarak may hand over power, or be unseated, in this key American ally in the Middle East had provoked loud and emotional cheers in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the focal point for pro-democracy demonstrations. But some in the crowd were quick to protest they did not want military rule.

Ahead of the address, hundreds of thousands flocked to the square and the surrounding streets with some organisers saying this had been the biggest turnout yet to celebrate their role in modern Egyptian history.

"The fact that the army met without Mubarak who is the head of the armed forces means that the military has taken over power and I expect this to be announced shortly in Mubarak's televised speech," Nabil Abdel Fattah, at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said. Major General Hassan Roweny had earlier in the day told tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square: "Everything you want will be realised."

People chanted: "The people demand the fall of the regime, The regime has fallen". Others sang: "Civilian, civilian. We don't want it military"-a call for a freely elected civilian government. It remains to be seen how far the armed forces, which have provided Egypt's post-colonial rulers for six decades, are ready to accept that.

Washington's approach to the turmoil in the most populous Arab nation has been based from the start on Egypt's strategic importance, as a rare Arab state no longer hostile to Israel, as the guardian of the Suez canal linking Europe and Asia and as a major force against militant Islam in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama, hailing history unfolding, said the United States would support an "orderly and genuine transition to democracy" -- Washington would be publicly uncomfortable if the army held on to power, and also does not want Islamist rule.

Asked if Mubarak would step down, an Egyptian official had told Reuters before the speech: "Most probably". But his information minister had said that would not be the case.

Mubarak had previously refused to step down before September polls, saying this could lead to chaos in Egypt. He has vowed not to go into exile. "This is my country ... and I will die on its soil."

On Tahrir Square, General Roweny urged the crowds to sing the national anthem and keep Egypt safe. For many, a key question is whether Suleiman might take over effective control from Mubarak or whether serving officers in the armed forces would move in instead, possibly declaring martial law. — Reuters





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