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Huge demonstrations across Egypt; crowds reject Mubarak's stance

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Crowds streamed into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, vowing to drive Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out of office just one day after the president refused to resign. (Feb. 11)

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 11, 2011; 9:40 AM

CAIRO -

Egyptian state television reported that President Hosni Mubarak and his wife left their home in an affluent Cairo suburb Friday, as hundreds of thousands of citizens across the country gathered to demand his ouster.

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The televised statement did not say where Mubarak was headed, but the Associated Press, citing a local official, reported that he was going to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

The apparent departure came hours after Egypt's military chiefs pledged to back the Mubarak's decision to remain in office, but cede some powers to his hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman. The supreme military council said it would guarantee "free and honest" elections after Mubarak's term expires, and a lifting of Egypt's 30-year-old state of emergency once calm returned to the streets. The military encouraged protesters to go home, citing the need to "return to normal life."

Instead, throngs of people gathered cities across the country, and anger and frustration mounted as word spread of the military's stance. "Mubarak must go! He is finished!" protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square shouted as a sea of people waved red-white-and-black Egyptian flags.

The armed forces did not move against the demonstrators.

At the state Television and Radio Tower, which is north of the square and flanks the east bank of the Nile, thousands of protesters toppled makeshift barricades erected by the military and swarmed around the building.

Soldiers stood by and watched. For the moment, protesters did not force entry into the building, instead chanting: "this is the people's army, not Mubarak's army." The television channel, a reliable producer of propaganda for Mubarak, continued to broadcast.

On the Mediterranean coast, massive crowds packed public squares in Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city, jeering Mubarak and insisting that he resign. Protests also erupted in Suez, where crowds surrounded 10 government buildings, according to the Egyptian news Web site al-Ahram Online. Large demonstrations were also reported in the cities of Tanta, Mahalla and Assuit.

In the affluent Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, a smaller demonstration was underway at Mubarak's presidential palace. There, 26-year-old Taha Nahas predicted that the military's statement would backfire and that Egyptians who had seen the armed forces as an honest protector of their interests would change their minds. "This is what we've heard before from Mubarak and Omar Suleiman," Nahas said. "We have lost our trust in the military. It's a corrupt organization."

A group of counter-demonstrators congregated nearby, chanting support for the president and urging the other side to disperse. Soldiers kept the two sides separated. "We are afraid. If there is anarchy, looters will come to our homes," said Serge Simon, 60, an Armenian-Egyptian pianist from Heliopolis. "What we are seeing here is hooliganism."

In Tahrir Square, scores of thousands prostrated themselves to the muezzin's prayer call at midday, many of them weeping. Organizers of Egypt's popular rebellion predicted the biggest turnout so far in their 18-day revolt.


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