Egypt holds 'Day of Departure'

Hundreds of thousands flood Tahrir Square for largely peaceful 'Day of Departure' protest against President Mubarak.

    Demonstrators are still standing their ground in the Egyptian capital several hours after hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo to call for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to stand down.

    The protests entered their twelfth day on Saturday, a day after the city's Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests in Egypt, saw demonstrators observe what they termed a "Day of Departure" for the man who has been the country's leader for the last 30 years.

    Mass demonstrations, which commenced after Friday prayers, were also seen in the cities of Alexandria, Mahalla and Giza.

    Protests continued into the night, in defiance of a curfew that has not been observed since it was first enforced last week. The newly relaxed curfew now runs from 7pm to 6am local time.

    One protester in Cairo told Al Jazeera that demonstrators would continue protesting until Mubarak steps down.

    "It's either death, or freedom," he said.

    Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's new prime minister, however, said on Friday that Mubarak would not be handing over powers to Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, before the September elections. In statements carried by the official MENA news agency, Shafiq "ruled out" an early exit for Mubarak.

    "We need President Mubarak to stay for legislative reasons," he said.

    Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's defence minister, visited Tahrir Square earlier on Friday, making him the first member of the government to do so. He talked with the protesters and military commanders.

    Speaking on Friday in Washington, Barack Obama, the US president, said it was "clear that there must be a transition process that begins now ... and leads to free and fair elections".

    Obama said that a "successful and orderly transition must be meaningful and ... must address the legitimate grievances of those who seek a better future".

    He said that in this "time of tumult and transformation", the US would remain a "strong friend and partner" to the Egyptian people. 

    Standoff in Cairo

    Al Jazeera's online producer in Cairo reported that a gunshot was heard in the centre of the capital on Friday afternoon, but no further violence was reported.

    Our online producer describes the standoff at Talaat Harb Square

    Earlier, about 200 Mubarak loyalists gathered on the 6th of October Bridge, near the square, with another 200 below the bridge.

    Our correspondent reported that there was a short standoff between about 300 Mubarak loyalists and pro-democracy protesters in the Talaat Harb square, which is located on a street leading to the main protest centre.

    People were throwing rocks at one another, and the Mubarak loyalists were eventually driven from the square.

    Our correspondents said that there were up to five layers of checkpoints at some entrances, with makeshift barricades being put up by pro-democracy protesters.

    At one point, a huge cheer went up amongst protesters when a false rumour went around saying that the president had stepped down.

    Our correspondents have said that pro-democracy protesters have also "overpowered" several people who were suspected of wanting to engage in violence, and delivered them to the army, who are detaining them.

    Our online producer termed Tahrir Square a "fully functioning encampment, with medical camps and pharmacies".

    Army separating protesters

    Soldiers on foot are very visible, and army armoured personnel carriers and tanks have taken up positions to control the 6th of October bridge entrance to the square, our correspondent said.

    Another correspondent added that the army appeared to be placing itself so as to separate Mubarak loyalists from pro-democracy protesters, and another correspondent indicated that the army was detaining some Mubarak supporters in order to prevent them from reaching the main square.

    "The atmosphere is not quite as triumphal as Tuesday's rally; people then said Mubarak would be out in a matter of hours, but now most of them think it'll be a long time," reported Al Jazeera's online producer from the square.


    Tahrir Square echoes with 'Go Mubarak!' chants

    He added that protesters, a diverse array of men, women and children from various economic and religious backgrounds, fear an outbreak of violence and the atmosphere remains tense.

    "The feel here is that today is the final day for Mubarak, it's time for him to go," Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist told Al Jazeera from the square.

    Some protesters have called for the crowd to begin marching towards the presidential palace.

    Amr Moussa, Egypt's former foreign minister and current secretary-general of the Arab League, also spoke to demonstrators.

    Earlier, prime minister Shafiq said the interior minister should not obstruct Friday's peaceful marches.

    Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo were attacked on Friday by "gangs of thugs", according to a statement from the network. The office was burned, along with the equipment inside it.

    Later, Egyptian security forces arrested Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief and another Al Jazeera journalist in the capital.

    Security forces also broke into the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's website and arrested 12 journalists there, Al Masry Al Youm, the country's largest independent newspaper, and the Associated Press reported on Friday.

    Egyptian state television has been reporting that the situation in Cairo is currently quiet and calm.

    They have not shown footage of the angry protesters, though they have said that they will try to bring some protesters into their studios for interviews.

    Meanwhile, Egypt's prosecutor-general has barred Rashid Mohammed Rashid, the former trade and industry minister, from leaving the country, and has frozen his bank accounts, the state news agency MENA said on Friday.

    The same measures had earlier been ordered against Habib al-Adly, the former interior minister, and Ahmed Ezz, a businessman.

    State-run newspaper Al-Ahram said on Friday that an Egyptian reporter shot during clashes earlier this week had died of his wounds.

    The fatality is the first reported death of a journalist during the wave of anti-government protests.

    Mubarak fears 'chaos'

    On Thursday, Mubarak said he wanted to leave office, but feared there will be chaos if he did.

    Click here for more on Al Jazeera's special coverage.

    Speaking to America's ABC television he said: "I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go."

    But he added: "If I resign today, there will be chaos."

    Mubarak's government has struggled to regain control of a nation angry about poverty, recession and political repression, inviting the Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's most organised opposition movement - to talks and apologising for Wednesday's bloodshed in Cairo.

    In a bid to calm the situation, Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, said on Thursday that Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups had been invited to meet the new government as part of a national dialogue.

    The Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition actors, including Mohamed ElBaradei, have refused the offer for talks until Mubarak leaves office.

    "We demand that this regime is overthrown, and we demand the formation of a national unity government for all the factions," the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement broadcast by Al Jazeera.

    Mohammed Al-Beltagi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera on Friday that his organisation has no ambitions to run for the presidency, while ElBaradei said that he would run "if he people ask".

    The developments come as the New York Times reports, quoting US officials and Arab diplomats, that the US administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately and hand over power to a transitional government headed by Omar Suleiman.

    This report, though unconfirmed by the White House, comes after Mubarak's statements on Tuesday where he agreed to give up power in September at the end of his current term.

    Bloody clashes

    At least 13 people have died and scores were injured over the last two days when Mubarak loyalists launched a counter-attack on pro-democracy protesters.

    The Egyptian health ministry put the number of wounded at up to 5,000 since the start of the protests.

    Protesters chanted 'He must go!'

    The army took little action on Wednesday while the fighting raged in Tahrir Square over the past two days.

    The interior ministry has denied it ordered its agents or officers to attack prior pro-democracy demonstrations.

    Suleiman said that the government would not forcefully remove protesters. "We will ask them to go home, but we will not push them to go home," he said.

    Ahead of Friday's mass protests, eyewitnesses told Al Jazeera that thugs, with the assistance of security vehicles, were readying to attack the square. They said protesters were preparing to confront them.

    Protesters also reported finding petrol bombs on security personnel dressed in civilian clothes.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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