BREAKING NEWS: Cairo, Egypt: Mubarak To Adress The Nation As Army Takes Over

10 Feb

LATEST NEWS UPDATE:

2050 GMT: Mubarak says “we have started a national dialogue, a constructive one.” This will put the country on the right track to get out of the crisis, a solemn-looking Mubarak says reading from a speech, standing next to an Egyptian flag.
Egyptian anti-government journalists rallying Enlarge photo

2048 GMT: Mubarak says he will not accept to listen to any “foreign accusations.” Again he says will not stand in the next presidential elections, promises power will be transferred to whomever “the electorate chooses” and vows the elections will be free and fair.

2045 GMT: Mubarak begins his speech saying it comes from “the bottom of my heart.” He tells the young people he is “proud of them for being a symbol of Egypt.” He vows the “blood of the martyrs” will not be wasted.

————

LATEST NEWS UPDATE:

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak looked likely to step down on Thursday after the military high command took control of the nation in what some called a military coup after two weeks of unprecedented protests.

The armed forces, issuing what they labelled “Communique No.1,” announced they were moving to preserve the nation and the aspirations of the people. The Higher Army Council met to try to calm an earthquake of unrest which has shocked the Middle East.

News that the 82-year-old Mubarak may hand over power, or be unseated, in this key American ally in the Middle East provoked loud and emotional cheers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focal point for pro-democracy demonstrations. But some in the crowd were quick to protest they did not want military rule.

An opposition supporter holds her child as an ...

Mubarak, a former air force commander, was not present at the council meeting. He was to address Egyptians on television. A government official said this was likely to take place at 10 p.m. (8 p.m. British time). It would be his third such address since the uprising started on January 25. Last week, he pledged to step down in September, but that failed to appease the protesters.

His information minister, contradicting a host of other sources, said Mubarak would “definitely not … step down.” But others fully expected just such an announcement.

Ahead of the address, hundreds of thousands flocked to the square and the surrounding streets with some organisers saying this had been the biggest turnout yet to celebrate their role in modern Egyptian history. Some danced, others played drums.

“The fact that the army met without Mubarak who is the head of the armed forces means that the military has taken over power and I expect this to be announced shortly in Mubarak’s televised speech,” Nabil Abdel Fattah, at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said.

The president has been buffeted by widespread protests against poverty, repression and corruption that began on January 25 in an unprecedented display of frustration.

Major General Hassan Roweny told tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square: “Everything you want will be realised.”

People chanted: “The people demand the fall of the regime, The regime has fallen.”

Others sang: “Civilian, civilian. We don’t want it military” — a call for a freely elected civilian government. It remains to be seen how far the armed forces, which have provided Egypt’s post-colonial rulers for six decades, are ready to accept that.

State television showed footage of Mubarak, sitting behind his desk in silence, in a meeting with Vice President Omar Suleiman. The station said they met on Thursday, although that was unclear from the footage. Suleiman, a former intelligence chief, had also not been present at the army council.

Al Arabiya television said the generals planned to support a handover of effective power to Suleiman, a 74-year-old former intelligence chief who has long had the goodwill of Washington and Israel. The military would take action, the broadcaster said citing unspecified sources, if protesters rejected that plan.

Mubarak would announce constitutional procedures before handing over powers, Al Arabiya said.

ORDERLY TRANSFER URGED

Washington’s approach to the turmoil in the most populous Arab nation has been based from the start on Egypt’s strategic importance — as a rare Arab state no longer hostile to Israel, as the guardian of the Suez canal linking Europe and Asia and as a major force against militant Islam in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama, hailing history unfolding, said the United States would support an “orderly and genuine transition to democracy” — Washington would be publicly uncomfortable if the army held on to power, and also does not want Islamist rule.

Asked if Mubarak would step down, an Egyptian official told Reuters: “Most probably.”

Mubarak has refused to step down until September polls, saying this could lead to chaos in Egypt. He has vowed not to go into exile. “This is my country … and I will die on its soil.”

On Tahrir Square, General Roweny urged the crowds to sing the national anthem and keep Egypt safe. U.S.-built Abrams tanks and other armoured vehicles stood by.

Army Major Ahmed Shouman gave up his weapon and joined the protesters, who carried him on their shoulders.

“I am here with the people and will not leave. I am Egyptian to the bone … I have come out of my own accord and will not go back on what I am doing. I tell my children the Egyptian people will protect you,” said a teary-eyed Shouman.

For many, a key question is whether Suleiman might take over effective control from Mubarak — who might stay on in a figurehead role — or whether serving officers in the armed forces would move in instead, possibly declaring martial law.

Suleiman, promoted to be Mubarak’s deputy less than two weeks ago, is not widely popular. But a key goal for many at the protests has been for changes to laws to ensure fair elections.

Anthony Skinner of the Maplecroft political risk consultancy said: “In the best case scenario, Suleiman would take over and there would be an accelerated transition to democracy. In a worst-case scenario, this turns into effectively a military coup and the military prove not keen on a transition to democracy.”

Analyst Michael Hanna from the Century Foundation said on his Twitter feed: “Will people be satisfied under military rule?

“This could create splits among the opposition, and that is probably what the army is hoping for,”

Egypt’s sprawling armed forces — the world’s 10th biggest and more than 468,000-strong — have been at the heart of power since army officers overthrew the British-backed king in 1952.

The army quelled bread riots in Egypt in 1977 and halted a rampage by policemen over pay in 1986, but the scale of the past week’s uprising across the country dwarfs those events.

“NILE REVOLUTION”

The protest was partly inspired by the example of Tunisia, where street protesters toppled the president on January 14.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand that Mubarak quit and clashes between protesters and security forces have killed at least 300 people.

Mubarak has clung on to power with his promise to step down in September. But that was not enough to end an uprising many now are calling the “Nile Revolution.”

Mubarak, who has ruled under emergency laws since he took over when Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist soldiers, also said his son would not stand for election, appointed a vice president for the first time and promised reforms.

“He is going down!” Zeina Hassan said on Facebook.

“We want a civilian state, civilian state, civilian state!” Doaa Abdelaal said on Twitter, an Internet service that many see as a vital catalyst for the protests in Tunisia and Egypt that have electrified oppressed populations across the Arab world.

“The army is worried that tomorrow on Friday the people will overpower state buildings and the army will not be able to fire back,” Anees said. “The army now is pressuring Mubarak to resolve the situation.”

Organisers had promised another major push on the streets on Friday when protesters planned to move on the state broadcasting building in “The Day of Martyrs” dedicated to the dead.

Washington pressured Mubarak to speed up the pace of reform but stopped short of demanding the resignation of the president of the country, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel and an army which receives about $1.3 billion (807.7 million pounds) in U.S. aid a year.

(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Tom Perry, Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Andrew Hammond, Alexander Dziadosz, Yasmine Saleh, Sherine El Madany, Patrick Werr, Edmund Blair, Jonathan Wright and Alison Williams in Cairo, Erika Solomon and Martin Dokoupil in Dubai, Arshad Mohammed in Washington, David Stamp in London and Brian Rohan in Berlin; Writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Anti-government protests in Egypt Slideshow:Anti-government protests in Egypt

AP – The local government headquarters, is set on fire by protesters, claiming delays on requests for housing …

CAIRO – Egypt‘s military announced on national television it had stepped in to secure the country and promised protesters calling for President Hosni Mubarak‘s ouster that all their demands would soon be met. Mubarak planned a speech to the nation Thursday night, raising expectations he would step down or transfer his powers.

Hosni Mubarak

Protesters packed in Cairo‘s central Tahrir Square broke into chants of “We’re almost there, we’re almost there” and waved V-for-victory signs as more flowed in to join them well after nightfall, bringing their numbers well over 100,000. But euphoria that they were nearing their goal of Mubarak’s fall was tempered with worries that a military takeover could scuttle wider demands for true democracy. Many vowed to continue protests.

The developments created confusion over who was calling the shots in Egypt and whether Mubarak and the military were united on the next steps.

The military’s moves had some trappings of an outright takeover, perhaps to push Mubarak out for the army to run the country itself in a break with the constitution. But comments by Mubarak’s aides and his meetings with the top two figures in his regime — Vice President Omar Suleiman and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq — before his speech suggested he may try to carry out a constitutionally allowed half-measure of handing his powers to Suleiman while keeping his title as president.

That step would likely not satisfy protesters, and it was not clear if the military supports such a move. The United States’ CIA director Leon Panetta said Mubarak appeared poised to hand over his powers to Suleiman.

State television said Mubarak will speak to the nation Thursday night from his palace in Cairo. Information Minister Anas el-Fiqqi said he would not resign, state TV reported. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq insisted Mubarak was still in control, saying “everything is in the hands of President Hosni Mubarak and no decisions have been taken yet.”

President Barack Obama said, “We are witnessing history unfold” in Egypt and vowed the United States would continue to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy. But he and the White House gave no indication if they knew what the next steps would be. The U.S. has close ties to the Egyptian military, which Washington give $1.3 billion a year in aid.

The dramatic developments capped 17 days of mass anti-government protests, some drawing a quarter-million people, to demand Mubarak’s immediate ouster. What began as an Internet campaign swelled into the stiffest challenge ever to Mubarak’s nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule, fueled by widespread frustration over the regime’s lock on power, government corruption, rampant poverty and unemployment.

The protests escalated in the past two days with labor strikes and revolts by state employees that added to the chaos. The rapid ramping up of the unrest was overwhelming the regime’s efforts, led by Suleiman, to manage the crisis. In a sign of the government’s distress, Suleiman warned parts of the military or police could rise up in a coup.

The military’s dramatic announcement in the early evening appeared to show that that its supreme council, headed by Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, had taken the reins of leadership.

Footage on state TV showed Tantawi chairing the council with around two dozen top stern-faced army officers seated around a table. Not at the meeting were Mubarak, the military commander in chief, or his vice president Suleiman, a former army general and intelligence chief named to his post after the protests erupted Jan. 25 and has led regime efforts to resolve the crisis.

“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.

Beyond suggestions that Mubarak would go, however, the military did not directly address whether it intends to carry out the protesters’ wider demands for full democracy — or if it would demand that protests stop.

Protesters in the square began chanting, “civilian not military,” a signal they do not want military rule, and many vowed not to end their demonstrations. At one entrance to Tahrir, thousands who turned out after the military announcement lined up to join in.

“If he steps down, that’s positive, but that doesn’t mean our demands have been met,” said one protester, 27-year-old Kareem Nedhat. “Handing power to the army is acceptable for a transitional period, but there are still demands that still need to be met. We need to stay in the square.” He said protests should continue until the army lifts emergency laws, dissolves parliament.

Another, Sheikh al-Sayed Abu Abdul-Rahman, warned, “This will amount to a coup. They want to turn it from a revolution into a coup. We want a civilian state with no discrimination and no military.”

In the military’s announcement on state TV, the council’s spokesman read a statement announcing the military’s “support of the legitimate demands of the people.”

He said the council was in permanent session to explore “what measures and arrangements could be made to safeguard the nation, its achievements and the ambitions of its great people.” That suggested Tantawi and his generals were now in charge of the country.

The statement was labeled “Communique No. 1,” language that also suggests a military coup.

Protests on Thursday increasingly spiraled out of the control. Labor 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, and 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. 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 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.

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.

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.

Around 800 public transport workers blocked a main Cairo thoroughfare with a protest, demanding salary increases, and they said at least 3,000 of their co-workers were rallying in other parts of the city.

If demands are not met, “we will join Tahrir and camp there,” said one bus driver, Mustafa Mohammed, who said he has been working since 1997 and only earns 550 Egyptian pounds a month, about $93. “We are immersed in debt,” he said.

In the face of a revolt by journalists over anti-protest propoganda in state media, the pro-government head of the journalists’ union, Makram Mohammed Ahmed, said he was going on indefinite leave. The state prosecutor summoned him over lawsuits filed by journalists accusing him of “negligence” in defending journalists’ rights.

Employees demonstrated outside the Environment Ministry in a southern Cairo suburb. Some 1500 workers held a strike at the Media City, a center for television and movie production in a satellite city in the desert outside the capital.

___

AP correspondents Sarah El Deeb, Hamza Hendawi, Hadeel al-Shalchi, Lee Keath and Marjorie Olster contributed to this report.

Egypt braces for Mubarak news Play Video Video:Egypt braces for Mubarak news Reuters

Anti-Mubarak protests widen in Cairo Play Video Video:Anti-Mubarak protests widen in Cairo Reuters

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