'Day of departure' rally in Egypt ,Demonstrations in Egypt

'Day of departure' rally in Egypt
The BBC's Jim Muir in Tahrir Square: "The sense of imminent attack has eased and people are relaxing"
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Egypt Unrest

    * Egypt unrest Live
    * Dark side of repression
    * Opposition in disarray
    * Washington's hopes

Tens of thousands of Egyptians are taking part in a "day of departure" to try to oust President Hosni Mubarak.

There is an increased army presence in Cairo's Tahrir Square after unrest that has led to hundreds of casualties.

After Friday prayers were held in a relaxed atmosphere, the crowd started chanting for Mr Mubarak to go.

Mr Mubarak has said he is "fed up" with being in power but is resisting mounting pressure to resign as he says it will leave Egypt in chaos.

In his first interview since anti-government protests began, he told ABC News he would like to resign immediately. But he repeated that the country's banned Islamist opposition group - the Muslim Brotherhood - would fill the power vacuum left by his absence.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei took issue with the president's remarks, saying: "We as a people are fed up as well, it is not only him.

"The idea that there would be chaos is symptomatic of a dictatorship. He thinks if he leaves power the whole country will fall apart."

A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Issam al-Aryan, also denied that it would put forward someone for the presidency, telling the BBC that it would prefer the opposition to nominate a consensus candidate.

"We want a civil state, based on Islamic principles. A democratic state, with a parliamentary system, with freedom to form parties, press freedom, and an independent and fair judiciary," he added.
'Silent majority'

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tahrir Square says tens of thousands have now gathered there, although with the checkpoints the movement into the square is more a trickle than a flood.
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At the scene
image of Jim Muir Jim Muir BBC News, Tahrir Square

The atmosphere in Tahrir Square has changed radically since late on Thursday, when violent running battles were still taking place to the north of the square, just by the Egyptian Museum, which houses Tutankhamun's treasures.

During the night, army forces intervened to set up a security cordon around the square, outside the front line barricade set up by the protesters to fend off the pro-Mubarak attackers. So inside the area it now feels safe.

Tens of thousands of people have observed Friday prayers here and they're now listening to speeches and chanting slogans all putting across the same message: that President Mubarak must go without delay.

Most people do feel this is coming to a climax and I think they're feeling the shift within the Egyptian ruling leadership.

The stronger army presence secured the perimeter and the soldiers appear to be on good terms with the protesters.

The demonstrators chanted: "The army and people are united."

Defence Minister General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and other military leaders joined the armed forces in the square.

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who has not ruled out standing for president, also visited Tahrir Square.

He was greeted by many people, who shouted "We want you as president". Asked earlier by French radio if he would consider running for office, Mr Moussa replied: "Why say no?"

Thorough checks for weapons were carried out ahead of Friday prayers, during which one cleric praised the "revolution of the young" and declared: "We want the head of the regime removed."

Our correspondent says the mood is relaxed but it is not quite the carnival atmosphere that existed before Wednesday - when pro-Mubarak gangs attacked anti-government protesters - and people are watchful.

There were no signs of supporters of the president in the square on Friday, but about 2,000 are holding a demonstration in Mustafa Mahmoud square in the Mohandiseen district. A BBC correspondent says they are waving Egyptian flags and chanting "Yes to Mubarak, yes to stability".

Meanwhile, in Egypt's second city of Alexandria, there are also many more tanks and soldiers out on the streets there than before, reports the BBC's Wyre Davies.

The atmosphere was tense and serious for the big rally, he says, and he reports seeing a man suspected of being a secret policeman beaten, bundled into a car and driven away.

Supporters of Mr Mubarak have been calling Friday a "day of allegiance".

The general secretary of the ruling NDP, Ibrahim Kamel, has accused the West of betraying Egypt.

He vowed that President Mubarak would not step down and that soon millions of Egyptians - "the silent majority" - would come out on to the streets to protest because "enough is enough".

Egypt's health ministry says eight people have been killed and more than 800 injured in the clashes in recent days. The United Nations estimates that more than 300 people have died since the unrest broke out on 25 January, with about 4,000 hurt.
US efforts

Egypt's Vice-President Omar Suleiman has appealed for calm and urged the protesters to accept Mr Mubarak's pledge that he would not stand for election again.

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ABC's Christiane Amanpour: "I had a 30-minute meeting with President Mubarak"

But it has now emerged that the White House has been in talks with Mr Suleiman about how Egypt can begin making a "meaningful transition" to a democratic government.

US Vice-President Joe Biden spoke to his Egyptian counterpart on Thursday, say diplomats.

The New York Times suggested that among the proposals was a plan for Mr Mubarak to resign immediately and hand power to a military-backed interim government under Mr Suleiman.

Neither the White House nor the state department have directly denied the report.

But a spokesman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council said it was "time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations".

The BBC's Mark Mardell in Washington says other reports suggest the US plan has already been rebuffed in Egypt, and that the administration has been surprised by the attitude of the military and Mr Suleiman.

The reports say officials believe Mr Suleiman was aware of the apparent campaign in recent days to intimidate the opposition, and are now wondering whether he is the right man to lead an interim government, says our correspondent.

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On Friday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron criticised the Egyptian government for its handling of the crisis.

"The steps taken so far haven't met the aspirations of the Egyptian people," he said.

In his interview with ABC News, Mr Mubarak denied that his administration was behind the violence of the last two days but said it had troubled him.

Mr Mubarak was speaking in the presidential palace, with his son Gamal at his side.

"I never intended to run [for president] again," Mr Mubarak said. "I never intended Gamal to be president after me."