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Streets defy Mubarak's curfew

Even as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appointed his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as the next vice-president, the streets defied him.

world Updated: Jan 30, 2011 01:27 IST

Even as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appointed his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as the next vice-president, the streets defied him.

Mubark ensured that the men with military links are in the top three political jobs. A former air force commander and aviation minister, Ahmed Shafiq, was appointed the prime minister on Saturday. Mubarak may want to keep his grip on power, but his prospects appeared grim on Saturday after a televised address failed to dent the determination of protestors.

Neither the promise of a new government nor a call on the army to uphold a curfew appeared to have any chance at making an impact on the streets at this stage.

Thousands of Egyptians flooded the streets again on Saturday, the fifth day of continuous protests, which have mutated into a mass revolt rivalling the uprisings that overthrew Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali earlier this month.

Silent and invisible since the start on Tuesday of the most serious challenge to his regime, the 82-year-old ruler made his first public appearance in a televised address overnight.

While his subjects were busy ripping up his portrait, booing his name and demanding his departure, Mubarak gave no sign of stepping down and handing over the reins of power, which have been locked in his iron grip since 1981.

He simply promised democratic reforms, a recurrent pledge punctuating previous statements, and announced a change in government, without giving any names.

Mubarak omitted to say whether he sought a sixth mandate in the upcoming presidential elections, which are scheduled next September, and also kept mum on the ambitions of his son, Gamal, a regular target of anti-regime jeers.

In the apparent political void, a top Arab cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi called on Mubarak to relinquish power.

He told Al-Jazeera television in an interview that there was no answer to the crisis without Mubarak going, and also called on Egyptians to continue peaceful protests.

Top dissident Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who had returned to Egypt hoping to lead a “transition,” removed his gloves off on Saturday in a direct blow at the leader.

“(Mubarak) must go,” he told the network channel France 24.

ElBaradei, a 2005 Nobel-laureate, threw his weight behind the popular protest movement, launched by pro-democracy youths and militants who were very active online before hitting the streets.

“Even if Hosni Mubarak stayed, even if his health allowed it, it seems difficult for him to run for another term. Surely he himself must understand that,” a Western diplomat in Cairo told AFP. Gamal stands less chance than his father. Cables from the American embassy unveiled by WikiLeaks described him as a man of great ambition but devoid of support in the population or the army, in which he never served.

The army, a central pillar of power, adopted a neutral stance between the streets and ruling officials. Since the end of monarchic rule in 1952, every president, including Mubarak, a former air force chief, came from its ranks. Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Enan cut short his visit to the United States and returned to Egypt midday on Saturday.

Washington made the army's restraint a decisive criterion for its future dealings with the Egyptian government, a faithful and strategic partner in the region, annually receiving $1.3 billion in US military assistance.