Friday, February 11, 2011

Egyptians hold 'Farewell Friday': Mubarak Leaves Cairo

Pro-democracy campaigners march on state television and presidential palaces, as army calls for normal life to resume.

11 Feb 2011 14:35 GMT

Pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square have vowed to take the protests to a 'last and final stage' [AFP]

Massive crowds have gathered across Egypt, including hundreds of thousands of protesters in and around Cairo's Tahrir [Liberation] Square, calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to stand down.

Pro-democracy activists in the Egyptian capital marched on the presidential palace and state television buildings, while many also gathered at Liberation Square, on Friday, the 18th consecutive day of protests.

At the state television building, thousands have blocked people from entering or leaving, accusing the broadcaster of supporting the current government and of not truthfully reporting on protests.

"The military has stood aside and people are flooding through [a gap where barbed wire has been moved aside]," Al Jazeera's correspondent at the state television building reported.

He said it was not clear if they planned to storm the building, but said that "a lot of anger [was] generated" after Mubarak's speech last night, where he repeated his vow to complete his term as president.

"The activity isn't calm, but there are a lot of people here who are tired of not having their demands met," he said.

Outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis, where thousands of protesters had gathered in Cairo, our correspondent reported that there was a strong military presence, but that there was "no indication that the military wants to crack down on protesters".

She said that army officers had engaged in dialogue with protesters, and that remarks had been largely "friendly".

Tanks and military personnel had been deployed to bolster barricades around the palace.

Our correspondent said the crowd in Heliopolis was "gaining momentum by the moment", and that the crowd had gone into a frenzy when two helicopters were seen in the air around the palace grounds.

"By all accounts this is a highly civilised gathering. people are separated from the palace by merely a barbed wire ... but nobody has even attempted to cross that wire," she said.

Reports indicate, however, that Mubarak has left Cairo for the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh, according to sources who spoke to Al Jazeera.

Egyptian state television announced on Friday evening that an "urgent" televised message from the presidential palace was due "shortly".

In Tahrir Square, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered, chanting slogans against Mubarak and calling for the military to join them in their demands.

Our correspondent at the square said the "masses" of pro-democracy campaigners there appeared to have "clear resolution" and "bigger resolve" to achieve their goals than ever before.

He also said, however, that protesters were "confused by mixed messages" coming from the army, which has at times told them that their demands will be met, yet in communiques and other statements supported Mubarak's staying in power until at least September.

Army statement

In a statement read out on state television at midday, the military announced that it would lift a 30-year-old emergency law but only "as soon as the current circumstances end".

The military said it would also guarantee changes to the constitution as well as a free and fair election, and it called for normal business activity to resume.

Many protesters, hoping for Mubarak's resignation, had anticipated a much stronger statement.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tahrir Square said people there were hugely disappointed and vowed to take the protests to "a last and final stage".

Protesters outside the state television station accused it of being a mouthpiece for Mubarak's regime [AFP]

"They're frustrated, they're angry, and they say protests need to go beyond Liberation [Tahrir] Square, to the doorstep of political institutions," she said.

Protest organisers have called for 20 million people to come out on "Farewell Friday" in a final attempt to force Mubarak to step down.

'Anything can happen'

Hossam El Hamalawy, a pro-democracy organiser and member of the Socialist Studies Centre, said protesters were heading towards the presidential palace from multiple directions, calling on the army to side with them and remove Mubarak.

"People are extremely angry after yesterday's speech," he told Al Jazeera. "Anything can happen at the moment. There is self-restraint all over but at the same time I honestly can't tell you what the next step will be ... At this time, we don't trust them [the army commanders] at all."

An Al Jazeera reporter overlooking Tahrir said the side streets leading into the square were filling up with crowds.

"It's an incredible scene. From what I can judge, there are more people here today than yesterday night," she said.

"The military has not gone into the square except some top commanders, one asking people to go home ... I don't see any kind of tensions between the people and the army but all of this might change very soon if the army is seen as not being on the side of the people."

Hundreds of thousands were participating in Friday prayers outside a mosque in downtown Alexandria, Egypt's second biggest city.

Thousands of pro-democracy campaigners also gathered outside a presidential palace in Alexandria.

Egyptian television reported that large angry crowds were heading from Giza, adjacent to Cairo, towards Tahrir Square and some would march on the presidential palace.

Protests are also being held in the cities of Mahala, Tanta, Ismailia, and Suez, with thousands in attendance.

In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Mubarak said he was handing "the functions of the president" to Vice-President Omar Suleiman. But the move means he retains his title of president.

"I have decided to stick... by my responsibility in protecting the constitution and the people's interests until the power and responsibility are handed over to whomever the voters chose next September, in free and fair elections," the president said.

Halfway through his much-awaited speech late at night, anticipation turned into anger among protesters camped in Tahrir Square who began taking off their shoes and waving them in the air.

'Go home'

Immediately after Mubarak's speech, Suleiman called on the protesters to "go home" and asked Egyptians to "unite and look to the future."

"Youth of Egypt, heroes of Egypt, go back to your homes and businesses. The country needs you so that we build, develop and create," Suleiman said.

"Do not listen to tendentious radios and satellite televisions which have no aim but ignite disorder, weaken Egypt and distort its image."

More than 1,000 protesters moved overnight towards the presidential palace in the upscale neighbourhood of Heliopolis in central Cairo.

Union workers have joined the protests over the past few days, effectively crippling transportation and several industries, and dealing a sharper blow to Mubarak’s embattled regime.

The US and EU said the announcement to transfer some powers to the vice-president was grossly insufficient and falls short of genuine reforms demanded by the people.

"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient," Barack Obama, the US president, said in a statement.


World sceptical of Mubarak's speech

US and EU say Egyptian leader's pledge to transfer some powers to his VP falls short of 'concrete path to democracy.'

11 Feb 2011 00:46 GMT

The Egyptian president's defiant speech announcing that he would not resign but transfer some powers to his vice-president has failed to allay the concerns of the international community and pro-democracy Egyptians.

After meeting with his top national security team, Barack Obama, the US president, warned that the transfer of some powers from Hosni Mubarak to his deputy Omar Suleiman did not represent a credible and concrete change.

Obama added that Cairo "must spell out a clear path to democracy." "The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient," he said in a statement.

Echoing Obama's position, the European Union foreign policy chief said Mubarak's remarks did not allay the concerns of the Egyptian people and the international community.

In a statement, Catherine Ashton said "the time for change [in Egypt] is now".
"President Mubarak has not yet opened the way to faster and deeper reforms," she said, adding that the EU would continue to "engage with the Egyptian authorities to convey the need for an orderly, meaningful and lasting democratic transition".

'Urgent transition'

Also speaking after Mubarak's speech, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said the announcement was "unavoidable", and that he hoped Egypt would establish a healthy democracy rather than a "religious dictatorship" when Mubarak eventually leaves office
William Hague, the British foreign minister said his country was calling for "an urgent but orderly transition to a broadly-based government in Egypt".

He stressed that Britain did not seek to meddle in Egyptian affairs, and that "the solution to this has to be owned by the Egyptian people themselves."

Hague said it is not clear what powers Mubarak is handing over to his deputy Suleiman.
Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, said Mubarak's speech "was not the hoped for step forward".

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said it was not for foreign governments to decide what was best for Egypt.

We should not pretend that we are more important for the Egyptian people than their own interests. I don't think I have to respond on this. It's up to the Egyptian people to find a way and do it according to their own constitution, norms and practices," he said in comments delivered at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Earlier in the day, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, responded to reports that Mubarak may resign by saying that he hoped whoever replaced him would uphold Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, according to an Israeli radio report.

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