Outrage as Mubarak refuses to go, US steps up pressure (Fourth Lead)

Friday, February 11, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - Furious Egyptians Friday prepared to hold a huge pro-democracy demonstration Friday, a day after embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he would not be demitting office, prompting US President Barack Obama to reiterate that the aspirations of the people must be met.

The protesters at downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square were initially stunned and then grew increasingly belligerent when Mubarak, in a televised address, made it clear Thursday night that he was not stepping down. The uprising entered the 18th day Friday.

Al Jazeera reported that hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters were likely to take part Friday in a march to be taken out through the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

The Friday march, which had been planned earlier in the memory of about 300 people who have died in nationwide protests, is now expected to be the biggest show of strength.

The Supreme Council of Egypt’s armed forces also held a meeting under Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi. The Council will issue an important statement, Xinhua quoted Egyptian TV as saying.

Mubarak’s speech that he was initiating steps to allow peaceful transfer of power following elections in September has fuelled the protests.

“I have expressed with all clarity my intention not to stand in forthcoming elections,” he said.

“I will not accept to be dictated orders from the outside no matter what the source is and no matter what the justifications are,” he said, responding to calls from world leaders to step down.

The crowds had begun to grow amid speculation that Mubarak was going to announce his departure Thursday night. But, as soon as the 17-minute televised address ended, the angry people vowed to continue with their protests to seek the ouster of Mubarak who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years.

Things took a turn for the worse after the speech got over.

“Leave”, chanted the protesters at Tahrir Square when Mubarak finished speaking. Some of them demanded that the military must intervene.

Clashes took place between police and unidentified gunmen in Rafah, a town near Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, witnesses said Friday, DPA reported

Some gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades in the attack. Gunmen later attacked the police station after they were angered when he only shifted his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman witnesses added.

The military supreme council said Thursday that it has “decided to remain in continuous session to consider what procedures and measures that may be taken to protect the nation and aspirations of Egyptian people”.

While Tahrir Square has been the epicentre of the protests, thousands of protesters moved overnight to the presidential palace in central Cairo.

A protester tweeted: “This marks a new front in our struggle against this illegitimate regime.”

“Now that Mubarak has refused to quit, gracefully, he’ll pay the price.”

A senior member of Egypt’s banned main opposition group, Muslim Brotherhood, said Mubarak was ignoring the will of the people and would remain firmly in control.

“The speech is frustrating and bypasses the will of the people,” Helmy al-Gazzar told DPA.

As Mubarak clung to power sparking more protests, US President Barack Obama mounted pressure on the embattled regime asking “to move swiftly to explain the changes”.

Asserting that Mubarak has not convinced the Egyptian people that his handover of powers “is immediate, meaningful or sufficient”, he asked the Cairo regime “to spell out in clear and unambiguous language” the process that will lead to democracy.

“Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world,” Obama said in a statement.

“We believe that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations must be met,” Obama said, clearing siding with the demonstrators.

Shortly after Mubarak spoke, Egypt’s ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, told CNN: “The vice president is the de facto president.”

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