Cairo— The Associated PressVodpod videos no longer available.
Hosni Mubarak, struggling to cling on as Egypt’s president in the face of unprecedented protests over poverty, corruption and oppression, said on Thursday he would transfer powers to his vice-president.
“I have seen that it is required to delegate the powers and authorties of the president to the vice-president as dictated in the constitution,” Mr. Mubarak said near the end of a 15-minute address on state TV. The article is used to transfer powers if the president is “temporarily” unable to carry out his duties and does not mean his resignation.
In an address that failed to meet demands by protesters for him to step down immediately, Mr. Mubarak, 82, appeared to step aside by handing over the reins of power to his deputy, Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief trusted by Washington.Protesters in Tahrir Square, waved their shoes in dismay at the speech, shouting: “Down, Down, Hosni Mubarak” enraged by the fact that the president had not stepped down.
Mr. Mubarak repeated that he would not stand for the presidency in a September poll and said talks with the opposition, which would have been unthinkable before Jan. 25 when protests began, had led to preliminary consensus to resolve the crisis.
Egypt was heading to a peaceful transfer of power, said the president, stating that he believed in the honesty of the protesters’ demands and intentions but underlining his rejection of foreign powers dictating events in his country.
Mr. Mubarak said he felt the pain of those who had lost family in the protests and that he was responding to the nation’s demands with commitment and said those who had died, put at possibly 300 by the United Nations, had not died in vain.
Mr. Suleiman then took to state TV to deliver his own address, where he urged Egyptians to return to work and leave the streets. He accused media of encouraging sedition.
Earlier, the vast Cairo square at the epicentre of more than two weeks of protests had been electric and on edge Thursday night, waiting with euphoria at the expectation he would resign.
But the celebrating in Tahrir Square was tempered with trepidation that behind the scenes the military might already have firmly stepped in and seized control of the country, simply ushering in a new authoritarian regime.
Egypt’s military has announced on national television that it stepped in to “safeguard the country” and assured protesters that Mr. Mubarak will meet their demands in the strongest indication yet that the longtime leader has lost power.
In Washington, the chief of the CIA had said there was a “strong likelihood” Mr. Mubarak will step down Thursday.
Footage on state TV showed Defence Minster Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi chairing the military’s supreme council, with around two dozen top stern-faced army officers, seated around a table. Not at that meeting were Mr. Mubarak, the military commander in chief, or his vice-president Omar Suleiman, a former army general and intelligence chief named to his post after the protests erupted Jan. 25.
“All your demands will be met today,” Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, told thousands of protesters in central Tahrir Square. The protesters lifted al-Roueini onto their shoulders and carried him around the square, shouting, “the army, the people one hand.” Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs, shouting “the people want the end of the regime” and “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” a victory cry used by secular and religious people alike.
But protesters also chanted, “civilian not military,” a signal they do not want military rule. More people flowed into the square following the military announcement in the evening.
The Globe and Mail’s Patrick Martin reports scenes of people streaming into the streets of Cairo as state TV reports meetings of the military’s supreme council, and rumours run rampant speculating on when and where Mr. Mubarak will go.
Mr. Martin reported on his Twitter feed that many of the barricades and the coils of razor wire that had been around perimeter of Tahrir Square have been removed.
Ahmed Shouman, a military officer who joined the protesters told reporters “The people don’t want [Mubarak] and I’m one of the people. I joined [protesters] of my own free will and gave up my weapons.”
Addressing the defence minister he said “Our duty is to protect the people. You are part of the regime. You too, please leave.”
The moves came after protests Thursday increasingly spiralled out of the control of efforts led by Mr. Suleiman to contain the crisis. Labour strikes erupted around the country in the past two days, showing that the Tahrir protests had tapped into the deep well of anger over economic woes, including inflation, unemployment, corruption, low wages and wide disparities between rich and poor.
In the past two days, state employees revolted against their directors, factories around the country were hit by strikes, riots broke out in several cities far from Cairo. Protesters angry over bread and housing shortages or low wages burned the offices of a governor and several police headquarters while police stood aside. Professionals and workers began joining the crowds of anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
On Thursday, hundreds of lawyers in black robes broke through a police cordon and marched on one of Mr. Mubarak’s palaces — the first time protesters had done so. The president was not in Abdeen Palace, several blocks from Tahrir. The lawyers pushed through a line of police, who did nothing to stop them.
Tens of thousands were massed in Tahrir itself, joined in the morning by striking doctors who marched in their white lab coats from a state hospital to the square and lawyers who broke with their pro-government union to join in.
“Now we’re united in one goal. The sun of the people has risen and it will not set again,” one of the lawyers, Said Bakri, said before the series of military announcements.
Mr. Suleiman has led the regime’s management of the crisis since he was named to the vice-president post soon after protests erupted on Jan. 25. With his efforts failing to bring an end to protests, he and his foreign minister both warned of the possibility of a coup and imposition of martial law if the protesters do not agree to a government-directed framework of negotiations for reforms. The protesters demanded Mr. Mubarak step down first.
The protests were only gaining momentum, given a further push by the labour unrest. Strikes were flaring so quickly that protesters sent out messages to railroad workers not to halt trains with a strike because people in the provinces want to come to Cairo to join the Tahrir rallies.
Youth activists organizing the protests planned to up the pressure on the streets even further, calling for an expanded rally on Friday, hoping to repeat a showing earlier this week that drew about a quarter-million people. Friday’s protest was to be expanded, with six separate rallies planned around Cairo, all to eventually march on Tahrir, said Khaled Abdel-Hamid, speaking for a coalition of groups behind the protests.
Strikes erupted in a wide breadth of sectors — postal workers, electricity staff and service technicians at the Suez Canal, in factories manufacturing textiles, steel and beverages and hospitals.
A bus strike launched Thursday snarled traffic in Cairo, a city of 18 million where many of its impoverished residents rely on public transport. Few buses were seen on the streets, which were jammed and slow moving because of the extra reliance on cars.
With files from Reuters and Globe Staff