Opposition firm on President stepping down

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came under fresh pressure on Monday to step down as opponents said concessions offered in landmark talks were not enough to halt a revolt against his 30-year rule.

Thousands of demonstrators spent a 14th day in central Cairo's Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, which over the past two weeks has begun to resemble a tented city within the city.

Protesters sat under the tracks of army tanks deployed around the square, fearful that any movement by the military could be designed to drive out the protesters or abandon them to the mercy of pro-regime thugs.

In further signs of a return to normal life, the nightly curfew in three Egyptian cities including Cairo was pushed back to 8:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) to 6:00 a.m. and the stock exchange said it would reopen on Sunday.

But activists kept up the pressure by barring access to the Mugamma, the heart of Egypt's bureaucracy, which dominates the square, despite dozens of people trying to gain access to get documents such as passports processed.

Mr. Mubarak, meanwhile, met at his presidential offices Vice-President Omar Suleiman, Parliament Speaker Fathi Surur and the head of Egypt's appeals court, Sari Siyam, said state news agency MENA.

On Sunday, Mr. Suleiman — Mr. Mubarak's key lieutenant and possible successor — tried to appease the revolt by inviting several opposition groups to join him on a panel to pilot democratic reform.

But the demonstrators were unimpressed and vowed to maintain their vigil.

Opposition parties, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, repeated their demand that Mr. Mubarak himself must stand down or immediately delegate his powers to Mr. Suleiman.

And there was scant relief for the strongman in the Western capitals where he was once hailed as a close ally and bulwark of West Asia stability.

U.S. President Barack Obama says Egypt has changed for ever since its street revolt broke out on January 25 and has called for a “representative government” in Cairo though he stopped short of urging Mr. Mubarak to quit immediately. “He's not running for re-election. His term is up this year,” he said.

The government said the parties agreed to set up a committee to examine constitutional amendments by March, while an office would look at complaints over the treatment of political prisoners and loosen media curbs.

A strict emergency law would be lifted “depending on the security situation,” said the government.

But Mr. Suleiman refused another key demand of the opposition, saying he would not assume Mr. Mubarak's powers and rule in his place during the transition.

Not all of the opposition movements involved in the revolt against Mr. Mubarak's rule were present at the talks. The former U.N. nuclear watchdog head and leading dissident, Mohamed ElBaradei, was not invited, and has criticised the talks. The Muslim Brotherhood, still officially banned, said it had agreed to take part in the talks because it wanted to determine if the government was serious about reform, but warned that the initial concessions were insufficient. — AFP

  • Obama calls for representative government
  • Access to seat of bureaucracy still barred