Egyptians serve ultimatum on Mubarak to leave by Friday

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Rania

Cairo, Jan 31 (PTI) Egyptian protesters gave a callfor a million people to pour onto the streets of Cairotomorrow to put up a massive show of strength to force thebeleaguered President Hosni Mubarak to leave the country byFriday.

Upping the ante to topple Mubarak, a coalition ofopposition parties, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhoodalso served an ultimatum telling the powerful army to choosebetween "Egypt or Mubarak", indicating that a decisive stagemay be near as the death toll in the last six days of violencecrossed 150.

Anti- Mubarak sentiments reached a feverish pitch, asthousands of protesters converged on Tahrir or LiberationSquare -- the hub of the protests in the heart of Cairo tomake the call for a "million man march" tomorrow.

They waved placards that the time had come for theArmy to choose between "Egypt or Mubarak" as they defiedassembled tanks and armoured carriers backing heavily armedcontingents of Army, police and secret police.

The call by so called ''April 6 Shabab Movement'' cameas an indefinite countrywide strike gripped the nationparalysing all essential services, including governmentoffices, banks and trading centres.

As the oust Mubarak campaign gained strength,American and other world leaders ramped up pressure callingfor an-orderly transition in the violence rocked country.

The ''Shabab'' movement which has been formed of allopposition groups and the leaders declared that the marchwould start from Tahrir or Liberation Square and was aimed atforcing Mubarak to step down by Friday.

The opposition also enforced a countrywide generalstrike today with most of major Egyptian cities, including thecapital Cairo, Alexandaria observing a total shutdown.

As the confrontation between the protesters and theembattled President entered what appeared to be a decisivestage, thousands of foreigners began a beeline to leave thecountry, with nations scrambling to send planes to fly theircitizens out of Cairo''s international airport, where completechoas existed.

On his part, 82-year-old defiant Mubarak told his newPrime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to bring in immediate reform tostem the tide. His instructions to Shafiq were read out onstate tv but had no discernible effect on protesters who vowedto continue their demonstrations until Mubarak steps down.

Terming the reforms as "too little and too late," theprotesters continued their sit-in at the Tahrir Square sayingthey would not budge till Mubarak resigns, with indicationsthat Egyptian strongman''s fate now hangs on the military.

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As the focus shifted on the influential army for a smooth transition of power, protesters enforced a countrywidegeneral strike.

Pro-democracy activist and Nobel Laureate MohammadElBaradei, who defied house arrest to join the protesters atthe Tahrir Square last night, asked the embattled president to"step down today itself."

"It is loud and clear from everybody in Egypt thatMubarak has to leave today," ElBaradei said in an interviewaired on CNN.

"He needs to leave today... to be followed by a smoothtransition (to) a national unity government to be followed byall the measures set in place for a free and fair election."

Army positioned tanks around the square and werechecking the identity papers, but were letting protesters in.

Egyptian judges and scholars from world''s prestigiousIslamic seminary Al-Azhar joined mass protests, calling for anend to Mubarak''s 30-year rule.

France 24 Television channel quoted a senior USofficial as saying that President Barack Obama''s nationalsecurity aides believe "Mubarak''s time had passed".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday calledfor an "orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt, saying thelegitimate grievances of the people will have to be addressed.

In a desperate move to cling to power, Mubarakyesterday visited the military headquarters and met the newlyappointed Vice President Omar Suleiman and top commandersafter which more troops and armoured vehicles moved on to thestreets.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera channel put the death toll at150 and said 4,000 people had been injured since protestsbegan, while some other reports said over 100 had been killed.

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Ahead of the march, the Egyptian authorities haltedall trains criss crossing the country to stop movement ofpeople as the embattled President carried out a reshuffle ofhis newly appointed cabinet.

All trains have been cancelled after organisers of aweek of anti-regime protests said they would organise a ''marchof a million'' to get Mubarak to quit, state television said.

"Train traffic has been stopped," the presenter saidas deadly protests against Mubarak''s regime raged into theirseventh day. Organisers said they would stage a "march of amillion" as part of Cairo protests on Tuesday.

Mubarak named a new Interior Minister and a new spychief, state-owned press said today, as he faced the biggestchallenge to his 30-year-rule with anti-government protestraging into a seventh day.

A retired police general Mahmoud Wagdi was named asthe new interior minister, who controls police forces in placeof Habib al-Adly. Another top General Murad Mowafi, who was aformer north Sinai governor was made the new head of Egyptianintelligence, Al-Ahram reported.

The move came after former intelligence chief OmarSuleiman was sworn in as vice president on Saturday, the firstsuch post held in Mubarak''s 30-year-presidency.

Mubarak, who is facing a seventh day of demonstrationscalling for him to go has shown no signs he is willing to stepdown.

State TV said Mubarak visited central military commandwhere he met his newly appointed vice-president Umar Sulaiman.

The new PM ordered the police and military back ontothe streets as fears of insecurity were rising with thousandsof convicts including hardline Islamists fleeing jails afteroverwhelming guards.

Meanwhile the authorities claimed that the turmoil inthe country had not affected the passage of traffic throughthe famous Suez Canal.

The Canal, the strategic waterway that connects Europeto Asia, is functioning at "full capacity", a canal officialtold state media, as oil prices soared on fears supplies couldbe disrupted by the turmoil in Egypt.

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