CAIRO - Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in the Egyptian capital Friday for a massive new rally on what they calling the “day of departure” for President Hosni Mubarak.
Crowds of Egyptians filed past soldiers conducting security checks and body searches along the route to Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the focus of more than a week of massive demonstrations calling for the immediate resignation of Mr. Mubarak.
Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi was seen visiting the square Friday for the first time since the start of the protests. Reports from the scene described the atmosphere in the square as calm, but tense.
In a national address earlier this week, the president vowed he would finish his term, but not seek re-election. He has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years.
U.S officials said Thursday the United States has begun talks with Egyptian officials on a proposal for Mr. Mubarak to resign immediately, and turn power over to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.
They say the proposal calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September.
Mr. Mubarak blamed the Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt’s largest and best organized opposition group - for the violence that has taken place in the capital over the past few days. Protesters say Mr. Mubarak’s supporters sparked the violence by attacking anti-government demonstrators.
At least eight people have died and nearly 900 have been injured in two days of fighting around Tahrir Square.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the clashes that broke out Wednesday. He called the violence a “disaster” and said it would not happen again.
U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen said in an interview with John Stewart’s The Daily Show that Egyptian army leaders have assured him troops will not fire on protesters.
Vice President Omar Suleiman Thursday fueled anti-foreign sentiment by going on state television and blaming outsiders for fomenting unrest. He described clashes in Cairo between government supporters and opponents as a “conspiracy.” Mr. Suleiman said the government was not involved but would find those responsible.
Mr. Suleiman said he has invited representatives from all political parties, including the Brotherhood, to begin a national dialogue. Local media reports that while some of the smaller parties have participated in negotiations representatives form the Brotherhood, as well as opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, have rejected any negotiations with the government until Mr. Mubarak steps down.
Source: VOA News