Cairo/London, Jan 29 (IANS) Hosni Mubarak directed his cabinet to resign Saturday and appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as deputy president, as US President Barack Obama told his Egyptian counterpart to avoid a violent response to the growing nationwide protests to end his 30-year rule.
Mubarak also appointed Ahmed Shafik, the former aviation minister, as prime minister Saturday evening, Xinhua reported.
“Omar Suleiman has been sworn in as deputy to President Hosni Mubarak,” the government-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) confirmed.
The cabinet complied with Mubarak’s diktat and officially resigned during a meeting Saturday, media reports said.
The demand for Mubarak’s resignation reached a crescendo on the streets of central Cairo with thousands of demonstrators Friday demanding that he step down.
Hundreds of protestors resumed their gathering Saturday in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where anti-government demonstrations started peacefully Tuesday afternoon before turning violent in the following days.
Witnesses said several tanks were parked near the square.
Egyptians have been taking to the streets since Tuesday, demanding Mubarak’s ouster.
A demonstrator on the street said: “All people can die, to hell with us all – only Hosni Mubarak wants to live.”
The government has banned unauthorised protests and warned protesters that they would be dealt with swiftly.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested this week, with many more reportedly missing.
In Cairo, police have used rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes with protesters at the interior ministry. There have also been clashes in the cities of Alexandria and Ismailiya, according to BBC.
The military, called out Friday to reinforce police, continued to patrol the streets with tanks and armoured vehicles as demonstrators defied the overnight curfew, ordered by Mubarak for Cairo, Suez and Alexandria but later extended nationwide.
Mubarak said in a televised, 11-minute speech: “I have asked the government to resign.”
As many as 13 protesters were killed Friday in clashes with security forces, amid a tide of anger at Mubarak.
“Down with Mubarak”, chanted the protesters.
The BBC reported that at least 45 people have died in clashes across Egypt since Friday, citing health officials.
The latest figures bring the death toll in the week’s unrest to at least 52, with both protesters and police officers among the dead. About 2,000 people have been injured.
“Live bullets have been fired at protesters, aimed at their heads,” Yaser Sayyed from the Sayyed Galal Hospital in Cairo told BBC.
Soon after Mubarak’s speech, demonstrators remained on the streets Saturday, with a group of 20 to 30 men ransacking a neighbourhood National Democratic Party (NDP) office and burning contents including plaques. Firing of tear-gas canisters could also be heard.
In Cairo, protesters set afire several police vehicles and stormed the foreign and information ministries. The headquarters of the NDP were looted and set ablaze.
As the uprising rapidly spread through Egypt, US President Barack Obama asked Mubarak to make good on his promises and avoid a violent response to the thousands of protesters in the streets.
Obama spoke with Mubarak shortly after the latter addressed his country saying he was asking his government to make way for a new one and pledging to address the concerns of thousand of Egyptians protesting in Cairo’s streets.
“I just spoke to him after his speech, and told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise,” Obama said.
“Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.”
“This moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise,” Obama said, repeating his administration’s call for the Egyptian government to restore access to the internet and cell phone service.
“There must be reform, political, social and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” he said.
“In the absence of these reforms, grievances have built up over time. The US will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful,” he said.
Obama’s remarks, delivered from State Dining Room, were the strongest yet from the US, according to observers
The firmness of Obama’s comments signalled that the crisis in Egypt had passed a “critical turning point,” the New York Times said citing an unnamed senior American official.
“Regardless of whether Mubarak survives, the upheaval has already transformed Egyptian politics and how the US will handle a leader long seen as a stable anchor in a turbulent region,” the official was quoted as saying.
Egypt receives about $1.3 billion in military aid from Washington every year, second only to Israel, and has received nearly $30 billion in economic aid since 1975, according to State Department figures.
As Egypt smouldered, Mubarak said he “regrets innocent victims on both sides”.
He repeated promises to work toward improving Egyptians’ standard of living, increase employment opportunities and improve health care.
Satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya reported that more than 1,000 people had been injured in Friday’s clashes.
Internet and mobile communications were cut Friday across Egypt, after social-networking websites used to organise protests were blocked earlier in the week.
Sajjid al-Badawi, head of the liberal Wafd opposition party, gave a press conference Friday night demanding a transitional government and changes to the Egyptian constitution.
World governments have weighed in heavily on the ongoing violence, urging peace and calm and calling on the Egyptian government to respect protesters’ freedoms of speech and assembly.