Festive mood as speculation swirls of Mubarak leaving (Fourth Lead)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CAIRO - “Tonight, it is ending”, the dramatic announcement by Egypt’s top army general was met with loud cheering by the tens of thousands of expectant protesters in Tahrir Square amid speculation that President Hosni Mubarak would most likely quit Thursday night.

CIA Director Leon Panetta has told the US Congress there is a strong likelihood of Mubarak stepping down Thursday night.

Mubarak has agreed to yield power to his vice president Omar Suleiman, CNN quoted a senior US official as stating, citing contacts within the Egyptian government.

In Cairo, Chief of Staff of the army of Egypt, General Sami Eman, waded through the sea of protesters in Tahrir square, caught hold of the microphone, and said: “All your demands will be met tonight. Allahu Akhbar!”.

ABC News reported that the general told the excited crowd “tonight all your demands will be met”, while referring to the turmoil in the country over the protesters’ demand for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

As soon as the army chief made the announcement, the crowd broke into an applause and then began singing the national anthem.

They chanted: “Allahu Akhbar, God is the greatest.”

The general then left the stage and he was immediately surrounded by demonstrators who were delighted on hearing the news.

When the ABC correspondent asked General Eman whether this means it’s over, he emphatically replied: “Tonight, it is ending.”

However, Egypt’s Information Minister Anas al-Faqi told ABC news that Mubarak will not step down.

Egypt has witnessed massive protests since Jan 25 by protesters who are demanding that Mubarak quit immediately.

Mubarak, who has been continously ruling the country since 1981, had earlier said that he would be ready to leave after his term ends in September, but not now. He even warned of chaos if he left now.

The protesters are determined to continue their protests till Mubarak quits. The protests had turned violent last week, leaving atleast 13 people and over 1,000 injured.

Over a million people had taken part in the protest held last Tuesday.

The secretary general of Egypt’s ruling party confirmed Thursday that a transition was underway and he expected Mubarak to address the nation soon.

On being asked whether Mubarak will leave Egypt, General Sami Eman said: “I can’t say, but I can say this is over.”

The state TV said that Mubarak will address the nation from the presidential headquarters in Cairo.

Mubarak met with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in Cairo Thursday evening, DPA quoted state media as reported.

The report came after state television showed footage of Mubarak and his deputy Omar Suleiman meeting at the presidential palace.

Amid mounting speculation of Mubarak likely to quit, the US described the situation in Egypt as “very fluid”.

“We’re watching a very fluid situation” on the ground in Egypt, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was quoted as saying by The Atlantic website.

US President Barack Obama took a cautious approach to the reports, saying the world will “have to wait and see” what happens.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what’s going on,” Obama said when asked for a comment while in Marquette, Michigan, according to DPA.

The Barack Obama administration has been working on a proposal for Mubarak to quit now and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.

Egypt receives about $1.3 billion in military aid from Washington every year, second only to Israel, and has received nearly $30 billion in economic aid since 1975, according to State Department figures.

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