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Egypt president seeks dialogue with protestors

February 01, 2011 09:37 IST

Facing mounting pressure to quit, embattled President Hosni Mubarak offered to open talks with opposition groups, which have called for a nation-wide general strike demanding his ouster.

"The president has asked me today to immediately hold contacts withpolitical forces to start a dialogue about all raised issues that also involve constitutional and legislative reforms in a form that will result in clear proposed amendments and a specific timetable for its implementation," said newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, reading out Mubarak's offer on state TV.

Suleiman, a long-time confidant of Mubarak, did not mention which political forces the government wants to talk with or what reform they are considering, but the dialogue may broaden the eligibility of opposition candidates for next year's presidential election.

As a coalition of opposition groups called on the people to hit the streets on Tuesday in a show of strength demanding Mubarak's resignation, the army came out with a statement on national TV, saying it will not use force against protesters.

The army recogonises 'the legitimacy of the people's demands', a military spokesperson said. He went on to add that army will guarantee 'freedom of expression'.

Stepping up their campaign, a coalition of opposition groups called a general strike and hoped to put up a massive show of strength on Tuesday to force Mubarak to leave the country by Friday.

The coalition, including the outlawed Brotherhood, served an ultimatum, telling the army to choose between 'Egypt or Mubarak'. The death toll in seven days of violence has crossed 150 already.

Anti-Mubarak sentiments reached a feverish pitch on Sunday, as thousands converged on Tahrir or Liberation Square -- the hub of the protests in the heart of Cairo -- to make the call for a 'million man march' on Tuesday.

The call by the so-called 'April 6 Shabab Movement' came as an indefinite countrywide strike gripped the nation, paralysing all essential services, including government offices, banks and trading centres.

On Monday, Mubarak sacked his much-hated interior minister Habib al-Adly in a revamped cabinet and appointed a new intelligence chief Murad Mowafi to mollify opposition groups.

Adly was replaced by Mahmud Wagdi, a police general and former head of the criminal investigations department.

The main opposition group Muslim Brotherhood rejected the new team dominated by veterans of Mubarak's regime, and called for continued protests to ensure the fall of the crumbling regime.

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