Protesters swell as Mubarak clings to power, US steps up pressure (Third Lead)

Friday, February 11, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - Spurred on by President Hosni Mubarak declaring he was not quitting office, tens of thousands of Egyptians Friday vowed to hold a massive pro-democracy demonstration as US President Barack Obama also mounted more pressure on the embattled regime.

The protesters at downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square were taken aback and grew agitated when Mubarak, in a televised address, made it clear Thursday night that he was not stepping down. “Leave”, chanted the protesters.

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

The protests, which began Jan 25, entered the 18th day Friday.

Mubarak said he was initiating steps to allow a peaceful transfer of power following elections in September.

“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.

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.

While Tahrir Square has been the epicentre of the protests that have swept through the country, 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.”

The protests have also scaled up their demonstration by blocking access to the parliament building near the square.

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.

“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,” Obama said in a statement.

“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.

“The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity.”

Obama did not call on Mubarak to step down, but he did call for emergency law to be lifted while negotiations continue among the government, opposition parties and civil society on the country’s future.

“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 United States, Sameh Shoukry, told CNN: “The vice president is the de facto president.”

Even CIA Director Leon Panetta testified before the House intelligence committee Thursday that there was a “strong likelihood” that Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.

The 82-year-old president had earlier rejected calls to step down, instead promising not to seek re-election after his term ends in September. His government had also shown willingness to implement political reforms in the last few days.

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