Mubarak seeks dialogue with oppn as army refuses to open fire


Cairo, Feb 1 (PTI) Embattled President Hosni Mubaraktoday offered to open "immediate talks" with opposition groupsas pressure on him mounted from the powerful military whichtermed peoples'' demands as "legitimate" and said it will notfire on protesters.

The offer came as tens of thousands of Egyptiansstarted converging at the Tahrir Square - the hub of the anti-government demonstrations in the heart of Cairo - for their''million man march'' to force 82-year-old Mubarak to step down.

"President Hosni Mubarak has tasked me with openingimmediate talks with the political forces to begin a dialoguearound all the issues concerning constitutional andlegislative reforms," newly appointed Vice President OmarSuleiman said on state television.

He said steps were underway to implement decisions ofthe appeals court contesting results of autumn legislativeelections in certain constituencies, Al Arabia reported.

Suleiman also said the government would move to "dealas soon as possible with the priorities of fightingunemployment, poverty, corruption and reach the requiredbalance between wages and prices."

Amid heavy presence of military and armoured vehicleson the streets in downtown Cairo, protesters waving placardsreading ''down with Mubarak'', ''Mubarak''s game is over'' spilledon the Tahrir Square.

Identity cards of protesters were scrutinized by thearmy personnel before letting them into the square.

Sensing the strong public sentiments, the militarymade it clear that it was not out to crush today''s massanti-government protests and said their demands were"legitimate."

"To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces,acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people ... have notand will not use force against the Egyptian people," themilitary said in a statement on state tv.

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy ofyour demands and are keen to assume their responsibility inprotecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedomof expression through peaceful means is guaranteed toeverybody," the army statement said.

Facing the first serious challenge to his 30-year-rule, Mubarak has been hoping for the military backing to stemthe tide against him.

In a desperate move to cling to power, Mubarak lastnight sacked his much-hated interior minister in a revampedcabinet and appointed a new intelligence chief to mollifyopposition groups, but the protesters remained unmoved andstated that they would accept nothing less than his departure.

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