Egypt's powerful army pledged on Friday to guarantee President Hosni Mubarak's reforms in a move to defuse a popular uprising, but many angry protesters said this failed to meet their key demand that he resign immediately.
The guarantees were seen as an army push to calm the worst crisis in Egypt's modern history but a clear signal it wanted demonstrators off the streets and an end to an 18-day revolt which has disrupted the economy and shaken the Middle East.
Protesters enraged at Mubarak's refusal to quit pledged to march from Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square to the presidential palace on Friday, raising fears of a confrontation between elite troops and demonstrators.
"This is not our demand," one protester said, after relaying the contents of the army statement to the Tahrir Square demonstration. "We have one demand, that Mubarak step down."
An increasingly sour stand-off in the uprising has raised fears of violence in the most populous Arab nation, a key U.S. ally in an oil-producing region where the chance of chaos spreading to other repressive states troubles the West.
In "Communique No. 2" the army said it "confirms the lifting of the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances end", a pledge that would remove a law imposed after Mubarak became president following Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 and that protesters say has long been used to stifle dissent.
The army also promised to guarantee free and fair elections and other concessions made by Mubarak to protesters that would have been unthinkable before Jan. 25 when the revolt began. Around 300 people may have been killed since then.
Troops have promised to protect the right to demonstrate. But a lengthening showdown over Mubarak's 30-year rule could test that resolve, with many Egyptians keen to end the economic disruption and the army keen to show it can impose order.
"The armed forces are there to protect the demonstrators and to protect the country but the powers have been handed over, not to the military, but to the vice president," Finance Minister Samir Radwan said in an interview with Reuters, after concern the military could decide to resolve the crisis with a coup.
"Nobody likes a military rule, that is for sure. Our military have so far shown that they are the safety valve of this country," he said before the statement was issued ahead of noon prayers.
Tens of thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters assembled in Tahrir Square before Friday prayers while troops in tanks and armoured vehicles stood by for what organisers billed as their biggest display of indignation yet.
ReutersLast Mod: 11 Şubat 2011, 13:42