Egypt’s protesters gathered on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a “Day of Departure” rally aimed at ousting President Hosni Mubarak.
Meanwhile, the US has stepped in, with officials revealing that talks were underway between the Obama administration and Egyptian officials about the possible immediate resignation of Mubarak and the formation of a military-backed caretaker government.
Protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, such as Alexandra are expected to grow in size and intensity today.
There are widespread concerns that the protests will erupt into severe violence unless the government takes tangible steps to address the protesters’ main demand that Mubarak step down immediately.
Already, eight people have been killed and 890 injured over the past two days.
“The president has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations,’’ White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people.’’
Pro-Mubarak supporters intensified their attacks yesterday on Egypt’s anti-government protesters, human rights activists and journalists in a concerted campaign to end a 10-day uprising.
As pro-Mubarak mobs battled demonstrators for a second day in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Mubarak told ABC News in America that he wanted to step down but feared there would be chaos if he did so: “I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go.”
He added that he never intended for his son Gamal to take over from him, in spite of it being widely acknowledged that Gamal was being groomed to govern Egypt, following in his father’s footsteps.
The government confirmed, however, that Gamal would not stand in elections due in September.
Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s recently appointed vice-president, issued a rare invitation to the banned Muslim Brotherhood for talks on Friday – an offer swiftly rejected by Egypt’s best-organised opposition group.
Mohammed al-Beltagi, a leading member of the Islamist movement told Al Jazeera television on Friday that government representatives had indicated that the group, which is formally banned, would receive official recognition as a party.
“We are ready to negotiate after [the end of] the Mubarak regime,” he said, adding that the government was “flirting” with the group. “We have said clearly that we have no ambitions to run for the presidency, or posts in a coalition government.”
Joe Biden, the US vice-president, called for “restraint by all sides”, according to the White House, and urged that inclusive negotiations begin for Egypt to move to a democratic government.
As demand from the US for a swifter transfer of power grew, Suleiman said Cairo would not accept intervention in its internal affairs. “Intervention … is strange, unacceptable and we will not allow it,” he said on state television.
Journalists in particular, came under heavy attacks. Some were beaten up and others arrested, and there were reports that hotels where journalists were staying had been stormed by mobs.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said researchers had been detained in what was described as as “a clear campaign against independent witnesses of the violence”.
The mood among anti-regime protesters in Tahrir Square remained defiant. They were offered medicine and food by supporters.
“I think people really want to stay as long as it takes. I don’t know how long and bloody it’s going to be,” said Noha, an anti-government protester.
Some protesters said some of the thugs had police cards. The interior ministry denied on state TV that any plainclothes police officers were in the square.
Egypt’s army, which had won the trust of protesters earlier in the week when it said it would not fire on them, largely stood by on Wednesday as supporters of Mr Mubarak unleashed their attacks. On Thursday, the military appeared to be making more of an effort to keep the rival factions apart, deploying soldiers between the two camps and firing repeatedly in the air.