2.11.2011

Egypt's Mubarak refuses to quit, hands VP powers




CAIRO – President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down or leave Egypt and instead handed most of his powers to his vice president Thursday, enraging protesters who warned the country could explode in violence and pleaded for the military to take action to push him out.

The rapidly moving events raised the question of whether a rift had opened between Mubarak and the military command over the uprising demanding the president's resignation. Hours earlier, a council of the military's top generals announced it had stepped in to secure the country, and a senior commander announced to protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square that all their demands would soon be met, raising cries of victory that Mubarak was on his way out.

Several hundred thousand had packed into Tahrir Square, ecstatic with expectation that Mubarak would announce his resignation in his nighttime address. Organizers called for even larger protests on Friday. After Mubarak's speech, around 2,000 marched on the state television headquarters several blocks away from Tahrir, guarded by the military with barbed wire and tanks. Hundreds more massed outside Mubarak's main administrative palace, Oruba, miles away from Tahrir in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, the first time protesters have marched on it, according to witnesses and TV reports. "The army must save the country now," he said. President Barack Obama appeared dismayed by Mubarak's announcement. Hours before Mubarak's speech, the military made moves that had all the markings of a coup.

That suggested Tantawi and his generals were now in charge of the country.

Mubarak and Suleiman, a former army general and intelligence chief named to his post after the protests erupted Jan. 25, were not present, the strongest indication during the day of a rift.

But there was no immediate reaction from the military following Mubarak's speech, and their position remained ambiguous.

Even after delegating authority to his vice president, Mubarak retains his powers to request constitutional amendments and dissolve parliament or the Cabinet. Under that system, a panel of judges and lawyers put together by Suleiman recommends constitutional changes, while a separate panel monitors to ensure that state promises are carried out.

Suleiman has also offered dialogue with the protesters and opposition over the nature of reforms. He has not explained how the negotiations fit in if the judges panel, which is led by Mubarak supporters, is recommending amendments. In any case, the protesters and opposition have resolutely refused talks until Mubarak goes.

The emergency law, imposed when Mubarak came to power in 1981, gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest.

Before the night's dramatic developments, protests had gained a spiraling momentum, fueled by labor strikes that erupted around the country. After the speech, some protesters drifted out of Tahrir, tears of disappointment and anger in their eyes.

"We are waiting for a strong reaction from the army to Mubarak's speech," said Mohammed Mustapha, a protest spokesman. "We will lay waste to our country if we march on the palace. Muhammed Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old lawyer who had joined the protesters for the first time Thursday called Mubarak's speech a "provocation."

The shock of Mubarak's speech came after a roller-coaster day for the protest movement. A strike by bus drivers and public transport workers Thursday snarled Cairo's traffic.

Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, went to Tahrir and told protesters, "All your demands will be met today,"

The protesters lifted al-Roueini onto their shoulders and carried him around the square, shouting, "the army, the people one hand." "People took it very objectively.

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