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Mubarak tries steam rolling reforms as protests continue

Egypt's embattled President Hosni Mubarak tasked his new Prime Minister on Sunday to ram through democratic reforms as thousands of protesters in central Cairo defied a military curfew to demand the veteran leader's ouster.

world Updated: Jan 31, 2011 09:53 IST

Egypt's embattled President Hosni Mubarak tasked his new Prime Minister on Sunday to ram through democratic reforms as thousands of protesters in central Cairo defied a military curfew to demand the veteran leader's ouster.

His instructions to Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq were read out on state television but had no discernable effect on protesters who vowed to continue their demonstrations until Mubarak stepped down. Mubarak, who sacked his cabinet on Friday after a nationwide revolt, also said the new Prime Minister's priority was restricting unemployment and creating new jobs.

"Above all that, and concurrent with it, I emphasise the importance of urgently, completely, effectively taking new and continuous steps for more political reforms, constitutional and legislative, through dialogue with all parties," Mubarak told Shafiq.

He also instructed the new cabinet, whose members have not yet been named, to restrict unemployment, end corruption and restore trust in the country's economy. Thousands of protesters stayed put in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of demonstrations in the capital, with some setting up tents to stay overnight despite a military curfew.

Top dissident, Mohamed ElBaradei earlier told a sea of angry protesters in the square that they were beginning a new era after the six day revolt. The Nobel laureate, who was mandated by Egyptian opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate with Mubarak's regime, hailed "a new Egypt in which every Egyptian lives in freedom and dignity."

"We are on the right path, our strength is in our numbers," ElBaradei said in his first address on Tahrir square. "I ask you to be patient, change is coming." "We will sacrifice our soul and our blood for the nation," the angry crowd shouted. "The people want to topple the president."

Brotherhood leaders Essam el-Erian and Saad el-Katatni, who walked out of prison earlier on Sunday after their guards fled, also addressed the crowd. "They tried every way to stop the revolution of the people but we will be steadfast regardless of how many martyrs fall," Erian said.

The protests against Mubarak's three decade rule have shaken Egypt and left at least 125 people dead as the veteran leader clings to power. A curfew slapped on Cairo, Alexandria and Suez on Friday was further extended on Sunday from 3:00 pm to 8:00 am, state television said, leaving citizens only seven hours a day to take to the street.

Mubarak has struggled to placate a nation angry at his three decades of autocratic rule with token gestures such as sacking the government.