Egyptian authorities have urged protesters to return home as they gathered in the capital of Cairo for a ninth day to demand the immediate departure of President Hosni Mubarak.
“Your message is received … (your) demands became known. And we are here and awake to protect the country for you … not by power but by the love to Egypt,” a ministry spokesman said in a TV broadcast on state media. “It is time to go back to normal life.”
The spokesman also said, “You have the power to allow Egypt to return to normal life. We are with you. We will continue to secure our country.”
Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years, said on Tuesday that he would not seek office again in elections scheduled for September, but vowed to stay in the country and finish his term.
The 82-year-old said that had been his plan all along and insisted he “never intended to be a candidate for another term”.
The concession was the largest the embattled president has made so far.
“My first responsibility now is to restore the stability and security of the homeland, to achieve a peaceful transition of power in an environment that will protect Egypt and Egyptians and which will allow for the responsibility to be given to whoever the people elect in the forthcoming elections,” Mubarak said in a televised address Tuesday night.
His announcement did not wash with protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where thousands erupted in chants of “Down with Mubarak!” and “The people want the president to be judged!”
Some protesters waved shoes in the air, which is a deep insult in the Arab world.
They have vowed to continue protests Mubarak quits.
Meanwhile, internet access was restored to all provinces in Egypt.
A government-imposed curfew was set for 5pm Wednesday to 7am Thursday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has become a leading opposition figure, said Mubarak’s decision was “an act of deception” that would only “extend the agony.”
“Whoever gave him that advice gave him absolutely the wrong advice,” ElBaradei said.
But Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister, said demonstrators should weigh what Mubarak has said before responding.
“I’m aware that there are certain currents in Egypt that will not see that as satisfactory and they need more,” Moussa, a possible presidential contender himself, told CNN. But, he added, “I believe that there is something new that has been offered.”
Walid Tawfeeq, a Mubarak supporter, told CNN that not all Egyptians agree Mubarak should step down immediately.
“Not everybody wants President Hosni Mubarak out,” Tawfeeq said. “There are elements in the government that needed to be changed. … There is reform. There is economic reform, but … change will not happen overnight. There’s not a magical button for change. Change will take time.”
Mubarak has led Egypt for nearly 30 years since the 1981 assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, aided by an emergency decree that has allowed him to rule with an iron fist. But following demonstrations that have only grown in the past week, the 82-year-old former air force general told his people Tuesday night, “I have spent enough time serving Egypt.”
“I will pursue the transfer of power in a way that will fulfill the people’s demands, and that this new government will fulfill the people’s demands and their hopes for political, economic and social progress,” he said.
Tuesday’s turnout in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities came despite efforts by the government to suspend rail service and cut off mobile phone and internet networks, and in spite of the mounting hardships facing Egyptians.
Banks and schools have been closed during the demonstrations, teller machine screens were dark and gas stations have run out of fuel. Long lines snaked around bakeries and supermarkets as shops began to ration how much food customers could buy.
In Alexandria, protesters clashed with supporters of Mubarak, leaving 12 people injured. The military was called in to restore calm.
The demonstrations were sparked by a wave of protests in Tunisa three weeks ago that forced its long-time president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia.
The issue of high unemployment was a major factor in both demonstrations.
As the demonstrations grew, Mubarak fired his Cabinet and ordered newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman to hold talks on political reform with opposition leaders.
On Monday, the military, which is the foundation of the modern Egyptian state since members are conscripted, announced it would not open fire on peaceful protesters.
“I think it’s all over with once the army makes that announcement,” Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan, told CNN. Cole said he had expected the regime to endure the crisis with the support of the military, but that the military appears to have “cut Mubarak loose.”
The demonstrations had turned ugly last Friday, when thousands of riot and plainclothes police used brutal force to crack down on people on the streets.
Unconfirmed reports suggest up to 300 people may have been killed during the protests, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Tuesday. Human Rights Watch has reported 80 deaths from two hospitals in Cairo, 36 in Alexandria and 13 in Suez.