5 Feb 2011

Anti-Mubarak protests continue

1:08 pm on 5 February 2011

The centre of Cairo is filled with people chanting and calling for the resignation of the President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Friday is dubbed 'day of departure'.

Protestors are waving flags and singing patrotic songs in Tahrir Square.

Tens of thousands are gathered there. They are chanting "Leave! Leave! Leave!"

Some people left as darkness fell, but thousands remain the square.

The BBC says the mood in Tahrir Square is relaxed, but it is not quite the carnival atmosphere that existed before Wednesday.

At one point, Defence Minister General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and other military leaders visited the square and spoke to soldiers manning a cordon, as well as some of the demonstrators.

Anti-government protestors were searching those arriving in order to prevent supporters of Mr Mubarak from entering the square.

The BBC says there were no signs of supporters of the president in the square on Friday, but about 2000 are holding a demonstration in Mustafa Mahmoud square in the Mohandiseen district.

in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, thousands of anti-government protestors have gathered outside the city's main mosque.

Mr Mubarak has said he is "fed up" with being in power but is resisting mounting pressure to resign as he says it will leave Egypt in chaos.

He told abc News on Thursday that he would like to resign immediately.

But he repeated that the banned opposition group - the Muslim Brotherhood - would fill the power vacuum left by his absence.

The protests began on 25 January and are now in their 11th day.

Appeal for calm

Vice-President Omar Suleiman has appealed for calm and urged the protesters to accept the president's pledge on Monday that he would not stand for re-election in September.

But there are reports that the White House has been in talks with Mr Suleiman about how Egypt can begin making a "peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations".

President Barack Obama has again called for an orderly transition to democracy.

He told a news conference at the White House on Friday that the most important question now for President Mubarak was how to make the transition effective.

Mr Obama said the "entire world is watching" and urged Mr Mubarak to "make the right decision".

The general secretary of the ruling National Democratic Party Ibrahim Kamel, accused the West of betraying Egypt.

He vowed that President Mubarak would not step down and said that soon millions of Egyptians - "the silent majority" - would come out on to the streets to protest because "enough is enough".

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told the BBC that 80% of the protesters' demands had been met, and that Mr Mubarak's decision not to seek re-election was tantamount to the "departure" they were demanding.

"In effect, the president has stepped down already," he said. "We need him during these next nine months."

He separately told al-Arabiya that it was unlikely Mr Mubarak would hand over power to Mr Suleiman, because the president was needed "for legislative reasons".

The NDP has said the vice-president would not be able to amend the constitution or dissolve parliament.

Potential contenders

Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa appeared in Tahrir Square on Friday saying he would consider taking a role in any transitional government. Some people shouted "We want you as president".

Asked earlier by French radio if he would consider taking a role in any transitional government or run for office, he replied: "Why say no?"

Other contenders include former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei; founder of the Ghad (Tomorrow) party Ayman Nour; and Hamdin Sabahi of the unlicensed Karama (Dignity) party.

Mr ElBaradei indicated last year that he would run for the presidency if there were guarantees of free and fair elections.

On Sunday, Mr ElBaradei said he had a mandate from opposition groups to make contact with the army and negotiate a government of national unity. But the opposition wants Mr Mubarak to step down first.

Some demonstrators in Tahrir Square were sceptical about Mr ElBaradei's brief appearance among them on Saturday, suggesting it was an attempt to hijack their cause.

Brotherhood keeping low profile

The BBC reports the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest and most organised opposition movement, has kept remarkably quiet during demonstrations.

Comments from its leadership have been carefully calibrated to show they are part of Egyptian society. One figure, Essam el-Erian, said the verdict of the people will be accepted "whatever it may be".

The Brotherhood is currently illegal in Egypt.

Egypt has been ruled by a succession of military strongmen since the revolution in 1952.

President Mubarak, 82, has been in power since 1981. He succeeded Anwar Sadat who was assassinated.