2 million Egyptians turn out for Day of Departure

February 5, 2011 - 0:0

CAIRO – Two million Egyptians flooded Tahrir Square on Friday for what they called the Day of Departure for embattled President Hosni Mubarak.

Chants urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave office reverberated across Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Al Jazeera Arabic reported.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the square, the focal point of protests in Egypt, for what they declared as the Day of Departure for the man who has been the country’s leader for the last 30 years.
As the country entered its eleventh day of unrest, mass demonstrations commenced after Friday prayers.
Tens of thousands also gathered in the city of Alexandria, holding up placards and chanting “He must go!” Al Jazeera reported.
They then marched to the city’s main train station and staged a sit-in, saying they would not leave until Mubarak resigns.
U.S. officials said on Thursday they were talking to Egyptian officials about a variety of ways to move toward a transition of power, including one in which Mubarak leaves office immediately, Reuters reported.
“That’s one scenario,” said a senior Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There are a number of scenarios, but (it is) wrong to suggest we have discussed only one with the Egyptians.”
The New York Times earlier said Washington was discussing a proposal for Mubarak to turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.
In an attempt to calm the situation, Suleiman said on Thursday that the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups had been invited to meet the new government as part of a national dialogue.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition actors, including Mohamed ElBaradei, refused the offer for talks until Mubarak leaves office.
“We demand that this regime is overthrown, and we demand the formation of a national unity government for all the factions,” the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement broadcast by Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Alexandria described the protesters in the city as an “ocean of people”, saying they were peaceful and had “literally taken over the area that is by the library, the universities, and the commercial center.”
Three thousand people also joined demonstrations in Giza.
Protests continued into the night, in defiance of a curfew that has not been observed since it was first imposed last week.
One protester in Cairo told Al Jazeera that demonstrators would continue protesting until Mubarak steps down.
“It’s either death or freedom,” he said.
Egyptian Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi visited Tahrir Square earlier on Friday, making him the first member of the government to do so. He talked with the protesters and military commanders.
Mubarak fears ‘chaos’
On Thursday, Mubarak said he wanted to leave office, but feared there would be chaos if he did.
Speaking to ABC television, he said, “I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go.”
But he added, “If I resign today, there will be chaos.”
Mubarak’s government has struggled to regain control of a nation angry about poverty, recession, and political repression, inviting the Muslim Brotherhood -- Egypt’s most organized opposition movement -- to talks and apologizing for Wednesday’s bloodshed in Cairo.
Standoff in Cairo
Al Jazeera’s online producer in Cairo reported that a gunshot was heard in the center of the capital.
It prompted a group of pro-democracy protesters to run along one of the arterial streets by the museum, and then run back, cheering.
Earlier, about 200 Mubarak loyalists gathered on the 6th of October Bridge, near the square, with another 200 below the bridge.
Army separating protesters
An Al Jazeera correspondent reported that soldiers on foot were very visible, and army armored personnel carriers and tanks had taken up positions to control the 6th of October bridge entrance to the square.
Another correspondent added that the army appeared to be placing itself so as to separate Mubarak loyalists from pro-democracy posters, and another correspondent stated that the army had detained some Mubarak supporters in order to prevent them from reaching the main square.
“The atmosphere is not quite as triumphal as Tuesday’s rally; people then said Mubarak would be out in a matter of hours, but now most of them think it’ll be a long time,” Al Jazeera’s online producer reported from the square.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who was formerly Egypt’s foreign minister, also spoke to demonstrators.
Earlier, Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt’s new prime minister, said the interior minister should not obstruct Friday’s peaceful marches.
Al Jazeera’s offices in Cairo were attacked on Friday by “gangs of thugs”, according to a statement from the network. The office was burned, along with the equipment inside it.