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Mubarak's offer fails to placate protesters

Atul Aneja
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Army avoids direct confrontation with people

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak

Protesting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's Friday night assertion that he would not step down, tens of thousands of angry Egyptians poured into the streets on Saturday, as the uprising against the ruling dispensation edged closer to a full-scale revolution.

Significantly, the Army which has been called out after the police virtually went into hiding after the bloody clashes, has not confronted the huge crowds that staged marches during the day demanding fundamental changes across the country.

Analysts say that the military, the central pillar of the Mubarak regime, has so far conducted itself as the protector of vital installations, institutions and heritage sites. 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 surged across Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez. Demonstrators seeking Mr. Mubarak's exit, and in no mood for cosmetic changes, countered their President for 30 years with the call: “Illegitimate, illegitimate!”

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.

In Luxor, home to some of 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 blaring icon of Mr. Mubarak's authoritarian rule.

Suez city, which has witnessed some of the bloodiest clashes with the police, once again saw on Saturday thousands moving into the streets. Nearly 1,700 public workers in Suez went on an indefinite strike, seeking Mr. Mubarak's resignation.

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, stepped up their political campaign, to seek the President's ouster. Mr. Mubarak appointed a new cabinet, with Omar Suleiman, the country's intelligence chief as the Vice-President. This is the first occasion when Mr. Mubarak has appointed a Vice-President — a move which observers say may reflect a new succession plan.

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 called for the formation of a new interim government, which will draft a democratic constitution, guaranteeing free and fair elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, he main Opposition party also called for the formation of a “temporary government to transfer power peacefully.” On Saturday, the high profile chief of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, an Egyptian national, endorsed the Opposition's call for “regime change” in his country.

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