With Hosni Mubarak refusing to step down, protests in Egypt are heating up as crowds gather in Cairo calling for the president to resign.

Tension is mounting as fresh protests gather pace after president Mubarak announced he would not leave until the next election.

Crowds are massing outside Egypt’s presidential palace today as well as Tahrir Square and other locations in the capital city, including the headquarters of state TV.

That would put the protesters in direct confrontation with the military, which has been largely sympathetic with the protesters. There will be questions about whether junior officers will obey if they are ordered to disperse the protests.

Mubarak expected to step down
Violence at Egypt protests

As protester numbers grow, the military’s supreme council is expected to make an “important statement”, the state news agency Mena reported.

In a televised speech on Thursday evening, Mubarak said he planned to stay in office until September’s polls, but pledged to hand over some powers.

He had been widely expected to stand aside as a result of the protests. Instead, Mubarak’s announcement has left uncertainty and confusion, analysts say.

This period represents the most critical so far in this crisis, one that will determine the future of Egypt and quite possibly the whole Middle East.

In his speech, Mubarak said he would pass some of his powers to his vice-president, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, but details of this remain unclear.

The Egyptian embassy in Washington said the changes meant Suleiman was now the de facto president.

But the crowds in Tahrir Square reacted with fury, yelling “be gone” and waving their shoes in acts of defiance.  Throwing and waving shoes is a sign of deep  disrespect in Middle Eastern culture.

After Mubarak’s speech, US President Barack Obama convened a meeting with his national security team at the White House.

In a strongly worded statement, Obama urged restraint from all sides, saying it was “imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality”.

Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei called Mubarak’s speech an “act of deception”.

“There is no way the Egyptian people right now are ready to accept either Mubarak or his vice-president,” ElBaradei told CNN.

“And my fear right now is this will start violence.”

Expectations that Mr Mubarak might leave began to circulate on Thursday afternoon when a statement by army chiefs said it would remain “in continuous session” to discuss how to safeguard “the aspirations of the great Egyptian people”.

Hossam Badrawi, the new secretary general of the ruling NDP, then told the BBC he would be surprised if Mubarak was still president on Friday.