Cairo, Feb 2 (IANS) As protesters took out a “march of a million” against his three-decade rule, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak finally announced that he would step down but not before the end of his term in September.
In his televised speech Tuesday night, the 82-year-old leader said he would not run for presidency for another term and pledged to ensure a smooth transfer of power after September, Xinhua reported.
“My main responsibility is to ensure stability, and in the next few months I will work on the country’s stability,” he was quoted as saying.
The president said that he would seek constitutional change, which controls the criteria of the candidacy of the next president.
“I am a military man who served this country during war and peace and I will die on the soil of Egypt,” Mubarak said.
The announcement came after hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a show of solidarity with the opposition groups which called for a ‘march of a million’, demanding immediate removal of Mubarak following eight days of unrest across the country.
Responding to Mubarak’s announcement, Egyptian reformist leader and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed ElBaradei said that Mubarak’s speech did not meet the people’s demand and asked for more immediate action.
The people want Mubarak to leave as he has “lost his legitimacy”, ElBaradei told al-Arabiya channel.
US President Barack Obama said shortly after Mubarak’s speech that Egypt’s transition to democracy and toward free and fair elections “must begin now” and should allow all opposition figures to participate, DPA reported.
“What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now,” Obama said.
Obama said Mubarak “recognises that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place”.
Obama did not directly say whether Mubarak should have immediately stepped aside, but the Washington Post reported the White House would have preferred he relinquish power to an interim government until elections could be held.
Protesters gathered in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square appeared to reject Mubarak’s pledge to step down at the end of his term, calling it was insufficient.
Protesters earlier hung effigies of Mubarak by the neck, while large banners screaming “Leave!” were flown off apartments in Tahrir Square, demanding that the president step down.
“Go Mubarak go, the game is over”, chanted protesters, who remained peaceful throughout, as did the military, which Monday confirmed for the first time that it would not open fire on protesters.
The crowd, made up of people from all walks of life and many of whom have no particular political allegiance, were responding to opposition calls for a “march of a million”.
Efforts by the government to stifle the protests failed, as demonstrators gathered despite train services being cut and internet services being down for a fifth straight day.
Opposition parties Tuesday also took their most concrete step yet towards developing an agenda, issuing a list of demands to the existing power structures to form a basis for negotiations.
The first item demanded that Mubarak “and his regime” step down. Secondly, a transitional leadership should be formed, and a committee established to write a new constitution. Finally, parliament, dominated by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, should be dissolved.
The list was sent to Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former head of the national intelligence agency, who said Monday that he would open a dialogue with “all political parties”.
Mubarak reshuffled his government Monday in an attempt to defuse the protest against his regime, but protesters rejected the changes and said he must surrender power.
The country, stuck without serious democratic reforms for decades, has also seen its economy stagnate and the middle class had watched its purchasing power decline.
Serious poverty is rife among Egypt’s 80 million people, nearly half of whom are below the age of 35.
The economic impact of the efforts to oust Mubarak were being felt, however, with prices of staple foods rising and people reporting shortages of cash and other goods. The stock market has been closed for nearly a week.