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Mubarak spurns opposition demands to leave office immediately

Anti-government demonstrators gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square react with fury on learning that President Hosni Mubarak will not resign.
Anti-government demonstrators gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square react with fury on learning that President Hosni Mubarak will not resign. (Linda Davidson)

About five hours later, at 10:45 p.m., Mubarak addressed the nation on television from his palace. Standing next to an Egyptian flag, he tried to assure the public that he had heard their grievances.

He promised to investigate the deaths of an estimated 300 people during the demonstrations, which began Jan. 25. But he took no responsibility for the actions of his police and security forces, which have been widely accused of instigating the violence.

"I speak to the youth of Egypt in Tahrir Square and all around Egypt. I speak to you as a father speaks to his children," he said. "I say to you before anything else that the blood of your martyrs will not be in vain and that I will hold perpetrators to account."

"I say to you that my response to your message and your demands is a commitment that I will not go back on," he said. "I believe that the majority of Egyptians know who is Hosni Mubarak, and it hurts me how some Egyptians talk about me."

But as he continued for 15 minutes, he never uttered the lines that many assumed were coming, instead insisting that he would remain in office until the end of his term in September so he could oversee what he called a transition to "free and transparent" elections.

"This is the pledge that I've made before God and the nation, and I swear that I will honor this pledge," he said. "I have lived for the sake of this nation. I will not leave it nor depart it until I am buried in the ground."

Mubarak said he was transferring power to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, Egypt's longtime intelligence chief. He also said he had ordered several constitutional amendments. One would expand the field of candidates eligible to run to succeed him in September, and another would provide for judicial monitoring of elections.

Afterward, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, asserted that Mubarak had transferred all authority to Suleiman, making the latter the de facto president. "For undertaking all decisions and responsibilities under the constitution, it is Omar Suleiman," the ambassador told CNN.

But there were few signs that Mubarak was about to recede into the background, and few Egyptians believed that he had entirely relinquished his control of the state.

Shortly after Mubarak finished speaking, Suleiman followed with a televised address in which he defended his boss and tried to soothe widespread concerns that Egypt's revolutionary struggle could turn ugly.

"The president puts the supreme interests of the country above everything else. He has empowered me to preserve its achievements and restore stability and happiness," Suleiman said. "We have opened the door to dialogue, and the door is still open to dialogue."

Earlier in the week, Suleiman had made public statements in which he warned protesters that they faced a choice between a "coup" and a "dialogue" and implied that a military crackdown was possible. On Thursday night, he once again urged demonstrators to back off, saying it was for the good of the country.

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