Cairo, Feb 1 (PTI) Facing mounting pressure to quit,embattled President Hosni Mubarak offered to open talks withopposition groups which have called a nation-wide generalstrike, demanding his ouster even as the powerful Army made itclear that it will not use force against the protesters.
"The president has asked me today to immediately holdcontacts with the political forces to start a dialogue aboutall raised issues that also involve constitutional andlegislative reforms in a form that will result in clearproposed amendments and a specific timetable for itsimplementation," newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleimanread Mubarak''s offer on state TV.
Suleiman, a longtime confidant of Mubarak, did notmention which political forces the government wants to talkwith or what reform they are considering but the dialogueoffer alluded to broaden eligibility of opposition candidatesfor the next year''s presidential election.
As a coalition of opposition groups called on thepeople to hit the streets today in a show of strengthdemanding Mubarak step down immediately, the Army came outwith a statement on national TV that it will not use forceagainst protesters.
The Army recogonises "the legitimacy of the people''sdemands", a military spokesperson said reading out astatement. He went on to add that Army will guarantee "freedomof expression".
Stepping up their campaign, a coalition of oppositiongroups called a general strike and hoped to put up a massiveshow of strength today to force Mubarak to leave thecountry by Friday.
The coalition, including the outlawed Brotherhood,served an ultimatum telling the Army to choose between "Egyptor Mubarak". The death toll in seven days of violence hascrossed 150 already.
Anti-Mubarak sentiments reached a feverish pitch onSunday, as thousands converged on Tahrir or Liberation Square-- the hub of the protests in the heart of Cairo -- to makethe call for a "million man march" today.
The call by the so called ''April 6 Shabab Movement''came as an indefinite countrywide strike gripped the nation,paralysing all essential services, including governmentoffices, banks and trading centres.
Yesterday, Mubarak sacked his much-hated interiorminister Habib al-Adly in a revamped cabinet and appointed anew intelligence chief Murad Mowafi to mollify oppositiongroups. Adly was replaced by Mahmud Wagdi, a police generaland former head of criminal investigations department.
Also axed were the finance and culture ministers.
The main opposition group Muslim Brotherhood rejectedthe new team dominated by regime veterans, and called forcontinued protests to ensure the fall of the crumbling regime.