Mubarak deputy insists president will not bow out before Egyptian elections ,Demonstrations in Egypt

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Mubarak deputy insists president will not bow out before Egyptian elections

Vice-president Omar Suleiman blames 'foreign agendas' for increased violence in Cairo's Tahrir Square
Omar Suleiman, Egypt's vice-president, said today there was no chance of Hosni Mubarak stepping down before autumn elections, warning that stability must be maintained so that key constitutional changes can go ahead.

In a combative appearance on state TV, Mubarak's newly appointed deputy blamed "foreign agendas" for the violence of the last two days and pledged that those responsible would be held to account – ignoring ample evidence that paid thugs attacked pro-democracy demonstrators.

Speaking on the eve of what protestors have dubbed "departure Friday", the former intelligence chief appeared to resist attempts by the US and other western governments to persuade Mubarak to step down before the next election. "I blame some friendly countries for saying the wrong things," he said. Mubarak's long and loyal service to Egypt meant he should serve out his full term, Suleiman said.

The vice-president spoke after holding the first session of a "national dialogue" with representatives of opposition movements to discuss a "road-map" and timetable for political reform. They agreed to form committees to look at constitutional change, the economy and law and order, but no decisions of substance were taken. The session was not attended by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which Suleiman said was "hesitating", presumably because it opposes talks until Mubarak steps down.

Western diplomats in Cairo said Suleiman and other leaders were digging in behind the embattled president. "They are rattled and under pressure but there is no sign of them giving up in the face of the criticism from foreign capitals," one official said. "There is a sense of disconnect."

Suleiman said there was much to do in "less than 200 days", highlighting calls to amend articles 76 and 77 of the constitution, which deal with limits to presidential terms and restrict the conditions for candidates to run for the presidency.

Suleiman urged demonstrators in Cairo's central Tahrir Square to end their 10-day protest, saying their reform demands have been answered. He said the army was on the streets to enforce a curfew, protect people against thugs and to make up for the police's lack of capabilities to deal with the unrest.

Samir Radwan, Egypt's finance minister, said he would "never do anything to humiliate" Mubarak.

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, described the scenes of violence in Cairo as "reprehensible" and warned of the potential for further violence, saying that the world was watching the authorities' response.

"Their reputation will be severely damaged if we see violence at the levels we have seen recently," he said. "The Egyptian people's right to express their views in public freely must be defended. Today's scenes underline further the imperative need for the Egyptian authorities urgently to commit to an orderly transition to a broader-based government that respects the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people."