Protests unrelenting, Mubarak gets Friday ultimatum to leave


Cairo, Jan 31 (PTI) Thousands of Egyptians flocked thestreets of downtown Cairo, scoffing at embattled PresidentHosni Mubarak''s cabinet reshuffle and calling for a ''march ofa million'' to demand his ouster, even as the Army said itwould not use force against its countrymen.

Mubarak sacked his much-hated interior minister todayin a revamped cabinet and appointed a new intelligence chiefto mollify opposition groups, but the protesters remainedunmoved and stated that they would accept nothing less thanhis departure.

The protesters, however, gave the President a Fridayultimatum to quit, and called for a show of strength tomorrow.

Earlier, Habib al-Adly, widely despised by Egyptianswas axed and replaced as interior minister by Mahmud Wagdi, apolice general and former head of criminal investigationsdepartment. Also axed were the finance and culture ministers.

Mubarak, 82, facing the first serious challenge to his30-year-rule, also appointed top general Murad Mowafi, aformer north Sinai governor, as the new intelligence chief.

Mowafi takes over charge from Omar Suleiman who has beenappointed Vice President.

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.

Stepping up their campaign, a coalition of oppositiongroups called a general strike and hoped to put up a massiveshow of strength tomorrow to force Mubarak to leave thecountry by Friday.

The coalition, including the outlawed Brotherhood,served an ultimatum, telling the powerful army to choosebetween "Egypt or Mubarak". The death toll in seven days ofviolence has crossed 150 already.

The Army made clear in a statement later that it willnot use force against the Egyptian people, and said itrecognises "the legitimacy of the people''s demands".

The statement made on state TV by a militaryspokesperson, which said the Army would guarantee "freedom ofexpression", is bound to give a boost to the protesters.

Anti-Mubarak sentiments reached a feverish pitch, asthousands converged on Tahrir or Liberation Square -- the hubof the protests in the heart of Cairo -- to make the call fora "million man march" tomorrow.

The protesters waved placards "Down with Mubarak" asthey defied assembled tanks and armoured carriers backingheavily-armed contingents of Army, police and secret police.

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. .

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