ElBaradei and other political heavyweights join thousands at Tahrir Square

Pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt have mounted fresh pressure for the immediate exit of President Hosni Mubarak by mobilising hundreds of thousands of supporters at Cairo's Tahrir Square amid signs that some of the prominent leaders of the movement are now willing to lead from the front.

In Cairo, massive crowds assembled after Friday prayers, chanting slogans for an immediate end to the Mubarak regime. The protesters termed Friday the “day of departure” for Mr. Mubarak, who has held on to power for 30 years.

In a similar vein, massive crowds in Egypt's second city of Alexandria chanted, “He must go!” As people, not all of the same ideological persuasion, poured in to protest, some held aloft pictures of the former Presidents, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. In Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, home to the famed pyramids, a few thousands assembled to protest.

Unwilling to slacken the momentum, some pro-democracy activists in Cairo said they would march to the rail station to pursue and persist with a sit-in until Mr. Mubarak relinquished office.

The army on Friday again let in only those who had been thoroughly searched, to make sure that the rally at the Tahrir Square remained peaceful. The army has come under the scanner after it failed to stop droves of violent pro-Mubarak supporters, who attacked peaceful demonstrators on Wednesday. Defence Minister General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and other military leaders of the armed forces were also present at the square.

Significantly, unlike on previous occasions, a number of political heavyweights were present at the square, signalling that some of the leaders could now be ready to lead the pro-democracy movement from the front. Among those present was Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the coalition of National Association for Change.

Mr. ElBaradei rejected Mr. Mubarak's assertion, made during his interview with an American television channel, that he was “fed up” with the presidency, but feared that his resignation would leave Egypt in chaos.

“The idea that there would be chaos is symptomatic of a dictatorship. He thinks if he leaves power the whole country will fall apart,” Mr. ElBaradei said. The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who also visited the Tahrir Square, said he did not rule out standing for President in the future.

Compounding the domestic pressure, the government felt the heat from Germany. Its Foreign Ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying on Friday that military exports to Egypt were being frozen because foreign journalists were targeted.

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