Egypt's powerful military said they have started taking "necessary measures to protect the nation" and support the "legitimate demands" of the people, amid reports that embattled President Hosni Mubarak may step down soon and transfer power to his deputy Omar Suleiman.
As the protest against Mubarak's 30-year rule entered the 17th day today, Hossan Badrawi, secretary general of the National Democratic Party (NDP), said he "hoped" that Mubarak will transfer power to Vice-President Omar Suleiman. "I expect the president to respond to the demands of the people, because what matters to him in the end is the stability of the country. The post is not important to him,"Badrawi told BBC.
The Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces convened a meeting in response to the current political turmoil after which a statement was issued. Thursday's meeting was chaired by Defence Minister Mohamed Tantawi, rather than Mubarak, who as president, would normally have chaired the meeting.
"Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation... and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people," the statement which was read out on the state TV after other programmes were interrupted.
The statement of the military was met with a roar of approval of the vast crowds at Tahrir Square, the main hub of the anti-Mubarak protest in the heart of the capital. Earlier, top Egyptian army commander Hassan al-Roweni told protesters at the Square that "everything you want willbe realised".
Earlier, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said the scenario of President Mubarak stepping down was being discussed. "Everything is in President Hosni Mubarak's hands, and no decision has been taken yet," official MENA news agency quoted him as saying. Shafiq said "everything (is) being studied by the supreme council of the armed forces is being communicated to the commander of the armed forces," apparently referring to the embattled Egyptian prescient, who is the commander in chief. Badrawi said Mubarak would "most probably" speak to the nation soon.
Earlier, Egypt's opposition parties and demonstrators had demanded Mubarak's ouster by February 4. However, the Egyptian strongman did not heed to the demands of protesters, saying he feared his resignation would bring chaos to Egypt.
"I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go," Mubarak had said last week. "If I resign today, there will be chaos," he added. However, Egypt's opposition parties and protesters have rejected Mubarak's continence in office and have been staging sit-ins on the Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the hub of the anti-government demonstrations in the heart of Cairo.
They have refused to bow to the military pressure to "go home" and have been staging massive rallies against the government. Several hundred protesters had yesterday attempted to block the entrance to the Parliament building, blocks away from the Tahrir Square, but were stopped by heavily-armed soldiers. Scrambling to find ways out of the crisis, the regime had announced a slew of measures to initiate landmark Constitutional reforms.
After negotiations with the opposition parties, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the government had agreed on setting up a committee to study and suggest by first week of March constitutional amendments, mainly on limiting the terms of a president and on who can contest for the top post.
The government also announced a 15 per cent hike in salaries and pensions in its latest attempt to calm the demonstrators who are demanding an end to Mubarak's 30-year-old autocratic rule. Meanwhile, Egypt's close ally, the US, has expressed its complete dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Egyptian government to meet the demands of the pro-democracy protesters and warned that the anti-regime demonstrations are going to grow bigger unless Mubarak takes some concrete steps. "It is clear that the Egyptian government is going to have to take some real concrete steps in order to meet the threshold that the people of Egypt that they represent require from their government," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.