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Egyptians defy military, hold massive anti-regime rally

Defying military orders to "go home", tens of thousands of protesters today laid a siege to Cairo's central square clamouring for immediate ouster of embattled President Hosni Mubarak, who ignored mounting global pressure to step down saying it will plunge Egypt into "chaos."

world Updated: Feb 04, 2011 20:18 IST

Defying military orders to "go home", tens of thousands of protesters today laid a siege to Cairo's central square clamouring for immediate ouster of embattled President Hosni Mubarak, who ignored mounting global pressure to step down saying it will plunge Egypt into "chaos."

Amid reports that the US is trying to broker a deal for a transitional government in Egypt headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman, massive crowds thronged the Tahrir Square, the hub of unrelenting 11-day protests that have claimed over 300 lives, for a "day of departure" rally against Mubarak, chanting slogans, bowing in prayer and waving national flags.

Under the close vigil of armed security personnel and ringed by armoured vehicles, some of the protesters carried bread, food, fruits and bottled water for those who stuck out at the Square overnight after days of violent clashes. The protesters dubbed today's protest as the "day of departure" for 82-year-old Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981, while state TV called it the "day of allegiance" to the President.

Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi, who is also Deputy Premier, along with top army officials visited the Square, where soldiers checked IDs and frisked protesters at entrances, to assess the situation, state TV reported. Protest organisers had set the deadline for the President to quit today, but he refused to bow to the pressure. In an interview to ABC News, his first since the revolt began last week, Mubarak said he is "fed up" and wants to quit but fears that the nation will "sink in chaos" if he steps down at this stage.

"I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go," said Mubarak. "If I resign today, there will be chaos," he said when asked about today's deadline by the protesters for him to quit and leave the country. "I don't care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country." He said he could have fled the country like other Presidents did but he refused to do so. He said he was present in the presidential palace with his son Gamal.

Mubarak, earlier in a speech in front of Parliament, vowed he will remain President "as long as his heart is beating." Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is in talks with top Egyptian leaders to broker a deal for Mubarak's exit and establishment of an army-backed transitional government headed by Suleiman. It quoted US officials as saying that under the proposal, the transitional government would come out with constitutional reforms to prepare the country for a free and fair elections in September.

Suleiman had last night demanded that the protests come to an end as he promised that the army would "not use any violence." The Vice President said that he was ready to start dialogue with the opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned since an attempt on the life of former President Jamal Abd-al-Nasir in 1954.

Muslim Brotherhood has said it is ready to hold talks on a "transition arrangement" in the violence-wracked nation on condition that Mubarak steps down. "We have a single point demand that unjust, tyrant and corrupt Mubarak has to quit," Mohammed Badie, the chief spiritual guide of the Egyptian organisation, told Al Jazeera. Banned for decades and treated as a pariah, the Muslim Brotherhood has suddenly shot into prominence and is within sight of its long-cherished dream of attaining power in a moderate secular country like Egypt.

The wave of protests have come as a boon to the organisation as it is now being recognised and playing an open role in the politics in Egypt. The protesters, who want to put the "last nail in the regime's coffin", defied military orders to "go home" and were expecting a larger turnout of people today than Tuesday when over a million demonstrators had marched against the regime.

They have been angered further by the emergence in recent days of pro-Mubarak gangs - many suspected to be plain-clothe policemen - who have attacked anti-government demonstrators. Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq said there would be investigations into the acts of violence on Wednesday between pro-democracy and pro-Mubarak activists, which had claimed seven lives that day. Faced with three days of violent clashes between anti-and pro-government groups, security forces intensified their campaign against violence.

Mubarak blamed opposition Muslim Brotherhood for the violence in Cairo and said "I was very unhappy (about violence)... I do not want to see Egyptians fighting each other." On US President Barack Obama's apparent calls for his resignation, he said he told his American counterpart "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now." Mubarak, who previously announced that he would quit in September when the Presidential polls are scheduled, dismissed speculation about his intentions to anoint his son Gamal when he relinquishes power. "I would never run away... I will die on this soil," he said.

As the turmoil deepened, foreign journalists have become targets of rampaging mobs, mostly those aligned with the embattled President. Journalists were beaten, bloodied, harassed and detained by raging men. News channels reported that several journalists had been detained or forcibly confined to their hotels.

Nobel laureate and former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who has joined the protests against the government, said Mubarak must go. ElBaradei said Mubarak "should hear the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity." Describing as "piecemeal" the concessions offered by Mubarak so far, he said "it's a question of trust, and the trust is gone."

There should be a year-long transition to democracy under a temporary Constitution with a presidential council of several people, including a military representative, he was quoted as saying by the media. Last night, Suleiman offered more concessions to calm the uprising.

Appearing on state TV, he promised that neither Mubarak nor his son Gamal, who was widely seen as a possible successor, will run in September presidential elections. He pledged to punish all those involved in violence and release innocent youths detained in anti-government protests. He also said that violence against protesters Tahrir Square could have been the result of a conspiracy.

The state public prosecutor said officials, including the hated interior minister Habib al-Adly have been banned from travel and their accounts frozen pending investigations. Toughening its stand, the US also asked Mubarak to immediately start meaningful steps towards transition. "The time for transition ... is now. It's important that the world see some concrete steps towards meaningful change," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. Egyptian Prime Minister Shafiq dismissed the US demand, saying "'NOW' should not be given as an order to Egypt."

"President Mubarak should leave the presidency in an honourable way. He is leaving anyways within the coming few months, so there is no means for the 'NOW' orders," he told reporters.