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Egyptian protesters remain firm

Atul Aneja
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Mubarak offer fails to calm uprising

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak

Rejecting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's late night assertion on Friday of not stepping down, tens of thousands of angry Egyptians poured out into the streets, adding more fuel to the uprising as it edged closer to a full-scale revolution.

Significantly, on foot and in its desert brown tanks, the Army, which has been called out after the police went virtually into hiding, has not confronted the huge crowds that have marched on Saturday, seeking fundamental change across the country.

Analysts say that the military, the central pillar of the Mubarak regime, has so far conducted itself as the protector of Egypt's vital installations, institutions and heritage sites, and has avoided direct confrontations with the people.

Nevertheless, its role, either as a benign guardian of national interests, or loyal defender of the regime, is likely to be tested when it enforces the 4 p.m.-8 a.m. curfew, which it has been asked to do from Saturday.

Within hours after Mr. Mubarak's speech, where he pledged forming a new cabinet, and acclaiming that he would personally steer this exercise, protests have surged across Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez. Demonstrators seeking Mr. Mubarak's exit, and in no mood for cosmetic changes, countered their President for thirty years with the call: ““Illegitimate, illegitimate!”

But disregarding call for change, Mr. Mubarak announced his new cabinet, including within its ranks loyalists from the security establishment. Ahmed Shafik, former air force chief and minister for civil aviation, has been designated the new prime minister.

New Vice-President

Omar Suleiman, the country's intelligence chief, who has also been the point person during negotiations with the Palestinians, has been made Vice-President. This is the first occasion in 30 years when Mr. Mubarak has appointed a Vice-President — a move which observers say may reflect a new succession plan.

In Cairo, thousands of protesters filled Tahrir (liberation) square, in full view of the army which did not intervene. But at least three people have died, during an attempt to storm the unpopular interior ministry, the nerve centre of Mr. Mubarak's dictatorship, taking the total death toll of protesters close to the 100 mark.

Local Egyptian media is reporting that snipers deployed in the vicinity of the interior ministry were responsible for the killings.

In Luxor, home to some of the finest architectural jewels of ancient Egypt, army tanks rolled out after protesters set afire the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) building. Demonstrators, after dark on Friday, had in Cairo, torched the NDP headquarters, another icon of Mr. Mubarak's authoritarian rule.

There was violence in Alexandria, Egypt's second city on the Mediterranean, where eight police stations were set ablaze, the website of the Egyptian daily, Al Masry Al Youm reported.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders, after Mr. Mubarak spoke, have stepped up their political campaign, to seek the President's ouster.

Mr. Mubarak's reformist rival and Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told Al Jazeera in an interview that Mr. Mubarak “should retire now if he wants to leave with dignity.”

He also criticised the formation of the new cabinet and called for the formation afresh of an interim government, which will draft a democratic constitution, guaranteeing free and fair elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition party also called for the formation of a “temporary government to transfer power peacefully.”

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