The Egyptian military called on Wednesday for an end to more than a week of demonstrations demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately after nearly 30 years in power.
Mr. Mubarak’s embattled regime and the powerful military appeared to be making a unified push to end a street movement to drive out the 82-year-old leader.
The declaration was a clear shift in the stand of the Army, which gave a tacit endorsement to the movement on Monday by saying it would not use force against protesters, and that they had legitimate demands.
The emboldened protesters brought more than 250,000 people into Cairo’s main square on Tuesday to demand Mr. Mubarak leave within days. The President responded with a defiant statement pledging to finish out his term and serve seven more months in office.
The Army’s message to the demonstrators on Wednesday had a conciliatory tone, appealing to young protesters to stand down “out of love for Egypt.”
“You have started coming out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of returning normal life to Egypt,” military spokesman Ismail Etman said in an address on state television. “Your message has arrived, your demands have become known.”
Immediately after his statement, state television ran a scrolling message reading: “The armed forces call on the protesters to go home for the sake of bringing back stability.”
Internet service also began returning to Egypt after days of an unprecedented cutoff by the government, and state TV said authorities were easing a nighttime curfew, which now runs from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. instead of 3 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Mubarak's party pushes back with rallies
Thousands of people marched in support of President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday morning, hours after he made a defiant speech promising to serve out the last months of his term and “die on Egyptian soil.”
The small rallies appeared to be the start of an attempt by Mr. Mubarak’s three-million-member National Democratic Party to retake momentum from protesters demanding Egypt’s nearly 30-year ruler step down immediately.
The army separated about 20 Mubarak supporters from about 1,000 pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square, but the Mediterranean city of Alexandria saw clashes erupt between several hundred protesters and government supporters early Wednesday, Al-Jazeera television footage showed.
Several thousand people outside Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque in the upper-class neighbourhood of Mohandiseen waved Egyptian flags and carried a large printed banner with Mr. Mubarak’s face. Many passing cars honked in apparent support.
Police officers surrounded the area and directed traffic.
"Mubarak’s speech will not satisfy us"
The April 6 group, young pro-democracy activists who have used social media and mobile phones to draw people to Tahrir Square, said Mr. Mubarak’s speech would not satisfy them.
“We will continue our protests in Tahrir Square and around the country until the people’s demands are met,’” the group said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “The people want ouster of the regime.”
In his 10-minute televised address to the nation on Tuesday night, the 82-year-old Mubarak appeared sombre but spoke firmly and without an air of defeat. He insisted that even if the protests demanding his ouster had never broken out, he would not have sought a sixth term in September.
He said he would serve out the rest of his term working “to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power.” He said he will carry out amendments to rules on presidential elections.
Mubarak, a former air force commander, vowed not to flee the country.
“This is my dear homeland,” he said. “I have lived in it, I fought for it and defended its soil, sovereignty and interests. On its soil I will die. History will judge me and all of us.”
The step came after heavy pressure from his top ally, the United States. Soon after Mr. Mubarak’s address, President Barack Obama said at the White House that he had spoken with Mr. Mubarak and “he recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place.” Mr. Obama said he told Mr. Mubarak that an orderly transition must be meaningful and peaceful, must begin now and must include opposition parties.
Frank Wisner meets Mubarak
Earlier, a visiting Obama envoy - former ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, who is a friend of the Egyptian president - met with Mr. Mubarak and made clear to him that it is the U.S. “view that his tenure as president is coming to a close,” according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the ongoing diplomacy.
The United States has been struggling to find a way to ease Mr. Mubarak out of office while maintaining stability in Egypt, a key ally in the Mideast that has a 30-year-old peace treaty with Israel and has been a bulwark against Islamic militancy.
Mr. Mubarak would be the second Arab leader pushed from office by a popular uprising in the history of the modern Middle East, following the ouster last month of the president of Tunisia - another North African nation.