Thousands gather in Cairo for ''day of departure'' for Mubarak


Cairo, Feb 4 (PTI) Thousands of Egyptians converged inCairo today to stage a "day of departure" for embattledPresident Hosni Mubarak, who ignored the global clamour forhim to step down immediately saying that such a move willplunge the Arab State into "chaos".

The protesters gathered at the Tahrir (Liberation) Square-- the hub of the unrelenting 11-day protests againstMubarak''s 30-year reign -- for a massive rally seeking ousterof the 82-year-old President.

Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi, who is alsodeputy premier, along with top army officials visited theSquare, where soldiers were checking IDs and performing bodysearches at entrances, to assess the situation, state TVreported.

Protest organisers had set the Friday deadline for thePresident to quit, but he refused to bow to the pressure.

In an interview to ABC News, his first since the revoltbegan last week, Mubarak said he is "fed up" and wants to quitbut fears that the nation will "sink in chaos" if he stepsdown at this stage.

"I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I havehad enough. I want to go," said Mubarak.

"If I resign today, there will be chaos," he said whenasked about today''s deadline by the protesters for himto quit and leave the country. "I don''t care what people sayabout me. Right now I care about my country."

New Vice President Omar Suleiman demanded late last nightthat the protests come to an end but promised the army would"not use any violence."

The protesters, who want to put the "last nail in theregime''s coffin", were expecting a larger turnout of peopletoday than Tuesday when over a million demonstrators hadmarched against the regime.

They have been angered further by the emergence in recentdays of pro-Mubarak gangs - many suspected to be plain-clothepolicemen - who have attacked anti-government demonstrators.

Faced with three days of violent clashes between anti-and pro-government groups, security forces intensified theircampaign against violence as the protesters described thedeadline set for today as the "day of departure" for thePresident.

Mubarak blamed opposition Muslim Brotherhood for theviolence in Cairo and said "I was very unhappy (aboutviolence)... I do not want to see Egyptians fighting eachother."

On US President Barack Obama''s apparent calls for hisresignation, he said he told his American counterpart"You don''t understand the Egyptian culture and what wouldhappen if I step down now." (More) PTI ZH KIM AKJ

Mubarak, who previously announced that he would quit in September when the Presidential polls are scheduled, dismissedspeculation about his intentions to anoint his son Gamal whenhe relinquishes power.

"I would never run away... I will die on this soil," hesaid.

As the turmoil deepened, foreign journalists havebecome targets of rampaging mobs, mostly those aligned withthe embattled President. Journalists were beaten, bloodied,harassed and detained by raging men.

News channels reported that several journalists had beendetained or forcibly confined to their hotels.

Egypt''s new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq has saidInterior Minister Habib al-Adly should not obstruct today''speaceful marches and apologised for yesterday''s violence.

Opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood andNobel laureate and ex-IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, have saidMubarak must go before they start negotiating with government.

"We demand that this regime is overthrown and we demandthe formation of a national unity government for all thefactions," the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement.

ElBaradei said Mubarak "should hear the clear voicecoming from the people and leave in dignity."

Describing as "piecemeal" the concessions offered byMubarak so far, he said "it''s a question of trust, and thetrust is gone."

There should be a year-long transition to democracy undera temporary Constitution with a presidential council ofseveral people, including a military representative, he wasquoted as saying by the media.

Last night, Egypt''s Vice President Suleiman offered moreconcessions to calm the uprising, which has claimed over 300lives so far.

Appearing on state TV, he promised that neither Mubaraknor his son Gamal, who was widely seen as a possiblesuccessor, will run in September presidential elections.

He pledged to punish all those involved in violence andrelease innocent youths detained in anti-government protests.

He also said that violence against protesters TahrirSquare could have been the result of a conspiracy.

The state public prosecutor said officials, includingthe hated interior minister al-Adly have been bannedfrom travel and their accounts frozen pending investigations.

Toughening its stand, the US also asked Mubarak toimmediately start meaningful steps towards transition.

"The time for transition ... is now. It''s important thatthe world see some concrete steps towards meaningful change,"White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Egyptian Prime Minister Shafiq dismissed the US demand,saying "''NOW'' should not be given as an order to Egypt."

"President Mubarak should leave the presidency in anhonourable way. He is leaving anyways within the coming fewmonths, so there is no means for the ''NOW'' orders," he toldreporters.

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