Egypt army steps in, promises free and fair polls
The Egyptian military on Friday came out in support of beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak and asked protesters to go home, assuring them of free and fair elections in September and the lifting of a much-hated emergency law. But the army's stand caused widespread disappointment among the people.
As the powerful military unexpectedly threw its weight behind the President, thousands of angry people converged again on the streets and vowed to take the protest to the 'doorsteps of political institutions'.
In what was labelled as a 'Farewell Friday', huge rallies snaked into the city centre after the Friday prayers, and many parts of the country observed a shutdown with textile workers, journalists and transportation workers walking out of work and some joining the protesters.
Image: Anti-government protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square listen as President Hosni Mubarak speaks to the nation
Photographs: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
Go home, army tells protestors
As Mubarak dashed the hopes of millions of his countrymen by refusing to step down, the military Supreme Command Council met twice in less than 24 hours before announcing that it supported Mubarak's move to transfer some of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Egyptian state television interrupted its programme to read out the Council's 'communique number 2' in which it vowed to lift the much-criticised emergency laws in the country, without specifying a date. The council said it would guarantee 'free and fair elections' in September, as outlined by Mubarak.
But, in what appeared to be a warning to protesters, who for 18 days have been calling Mubarak to stand down after three decades in power, the military asked them to go home and get back to work.
Image: Demonstrators gesture as they listen to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's televised speech screened in Tahrir Square in Cairo
Photographs: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
Army promises 'free and fair presidential elections'
The Council meeting presided over by Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi said it had agreed to "lift emergency law as soon as the current circumstances were over". It also promised to hold "free and fair presidential elections based on constitutional amendments".
The communique said it would not take action against those calling for reforms but warned against any harm to the security of the nation.
The army also asked the workers' unions, which have been on strike for the last two days, to get back to work. The protestors, who were anticipating a more favourable statement, were disappointed by the stand taken by the army and vowed to carry their struggle to the last stage.
Image: Anti-government protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square wave shoes in dismay as President Hosni Mubarak speaks to the nation
Photographs: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Labelling today's march, in which a call was given for millions to come onto the streets, as a 'Farewell Friday', hordes of people also started converging on Mubarak's Abedeen Palace and the state-television office, vowing to take the struggle to the 'doorsteps of the political institutions', Al Jazeera reported.
As hundreds of people surrounded the radio and television building in Cairo, which they see as a mouthpiece of Mubarak's regime, some reports said several employees of the state television had quit their jobs. In a significant boost to the marchers, leading clerics of the Al Azhar mosque also joined their ranks after the Friday prayers.
The statement by the military top brass came after global expectations that Mubarak would announce his stepping down in his televised speech on Thursday night were dashed. The President's speech led to a chorus of indignation at the Egyptian strongman.
Image: Anti-government protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square listen as President Hosni Mubarak addresses the nation in a televised speech
Photographs: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
'Is transition meaningful or sufficient?'
US President Barack Obama led leaders from the European Union, France, Germany, United Kingdom and Australia to say that there were still no 'concrete' changes in Egypt.
Speaking after Mubarak's televised speech, the US President said, "The Egyptian people have been told there was a transition of authority, but it is not clear whether this transition is meaningful or sufficient".
Image: An opposition supporter holds her child as an Egyptian flag is painted on her baby's face
Photographs: uhaib Salem/Reuters
'I will shoulder my responsibility'
Earlier, a defiant Mubarak refused to step down under any outside diktat and asserted that he will bow out only by September in a peaceful transition of power.
Contradicting reports that he was planning to hand over power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, a grim-looking 82-year-old Mubarak said, "I will not listen to matters dictated by countries abroad."
"I will shoulder my responsibility, protect the constitution and safeguard the interests of Egyptians (until the next elections)," he said.
Image: Anti-government protesters' clothes on the barbed wire at the front line of their stronghold in Tahrir square in Cairo
Photographs: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters