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Mubarak Leaves Cairo, As Protests Continue


An Egyptian flag emblazoned with January 25, the date the uprising started
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his family left Cairo today, arriving in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh just before sundown.

State television, meanwhile, reports that an "urgent and important" message will be issued by the presidential palace. Military helicopters were seen landing on the roof of the presidential palace ahead of that announcement.

The developments come after tens of thousands of demonstrators today surrounded the presidential palace and state TV headquarters in the capital. The demonstrators also are continuing massive rallies at Tahrir Square and in front of the parliament building to demand the immediate resignation of Mubarak and his regime.

Heightened Security At The Presidential Palace

Security has been heightened at the presidential palace with extra troops who rolled out barbed wire and deployed tanks. Earlier, government snipers were seen on the roof of the palace.

The marches by protesters on the politically sensitive buildings came after Friday Prayers. After demonstrators prevented anyone from getting in and out of the state TV building throughout the day, the state broadcaster began airing interviews with antigovernment protesters for the first time.

The rallies spread to new locations in Cairo despite assurances from Egypt's military that it would guarantee reforms promised by Mubarak.

Those assurances, made by the Egyptian military's Supreme Council just before Friday prayers, are seen by many as noncommittal.

Crucially, the Supreme Council did not declare, as many demonstrators have demanded, that the army take temporary control of the government during an interim period until "free and fair" elections can be held.

The Supreme Council also did not back the calls of demonstrators for Mubarak's immediate resignation. Instead, it said people should end their protests and return to their normal lives -- a call that angered the crowd massed at Tahrir Square:

A second meeting of the Supreme Council was being headed by Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi today after Friday prayers with military leaders assessing the situation as protest marchers began to move on government buildings in Cairo as well as Alexandria, Suez, and other Egyptian cities.

'I'm Not Stepping Down'

Mubarak on February 10 defied calls for his immediate resignation, confounding expectations he was about to quit. Mubarak said in a televised speech that he would remain in office until elections scheduled for September. However, Mubarak did transfer some authorities to his newly appointed vice president Omar Suleiman.
President Hosni Mubarak told the nation on February 10 he is staying put.

Just before Friday Prayers began on February 11, the Supreme Council's statement was read on state television. The council pledged, among other things, to end the state of emergency once the "current circumstances" come to an end, and to hold "free and fair elections in light of the constitutional amendments."

The statement did not appease the growing crowds in central Cairo.

Reports said demonstrators at Tahrir Square in Cairo heckled a military spokesman who tried to read the Supreme Council's statement -- preventing him from reading the complete document.
Antigovernment protesters on Tahrir Square today.

Expectations for Mubarak's immediate resignation were fueled by high-ranking Egyptian military officials who had announced on February 10 that the demonstrators would "get everything they want."

Instead, Mubarak announced constitutional changes that transferred much of his authority to Suleiman.

The protesters rejected those moves, with many holding their shoes in the air to show their disgust and insisting they want all members of Mubarak's regime to step down -- including the 74-year-old Suleiman.

One demonstrator, parliamentarian Zakariya Ganayni, echoed the sentiments of many of the protesters, "[Mubarak] had insulted the entire Egyptian population -- from the workers to farmers, from the poor to the rich."

Many protesters also expressed outrage at what they considered to be patronizing language by Suleiman, who addressed the nation after Mubarak and called on the "youth of Egypt ... heroes" to go back to their homes and jobs. "Do not listen to biased satellite channels and channels which have no aims except to mesmerize and to weaken Egypt and to ruin its image."

Rift Within The Army?

The events of the past 24 hours have led to speculation about whether a rift has developed between Egypt's army and the government, or whether there may even be a rift within the higher echelons of the army.

That poses a major test for the military as protesters stepped up calls for the army to intervene against Mubarak.

Dubbing today's demonstration as "Farewell Friday," protest organizers have called for rallies after Friday prayers to be the biggest demonstrations yet -- hoping to bring as many as several million people onto the streets across the country.

written by Ron Synovitz, with contributions from Abubakar Siddique, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, and agency reports
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