Egyptians brace for new anti-Mubarak rally

CAIRO Fri Feb 4, 2011 12:52pm IST

Protesters chant anti-government slogans during mass demonstrations against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, in Alexandria February 3, 2011. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Protesters chant anti-government slogans during mass demonstrations against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, in Alexandria February 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians fighting to oust President Hosni Mubarak hoped to rally a million people on Friday as the United States worked to convince the 82-year-old leader to begin handing over power.

A senior U.S. official, who declined to be named, said on Thursday Washington was discussing with Egyptians different scenarios, including one in which Mubarak resigned immediately.

Mubarak, however, speaking in an interview with ABC on Thursday, said he believed his country still needed him.

"If I resign today, there will be chaos," Mubarak, who has promised to step down in September, said. Asked to comment on calls for him to resign, he said: "I don't care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country."

In Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the hub of protests now into their 11th day -- thousands who had defied a curfew and attacks on Wednesday by pro-Mubarak supporters -- were preparing for a rally they had dubbed the "Friday of Departure".

Organisers called on people to march from wherever they were towards the square, the state television building and the parliament building -- all within around a mile of one another.

By daybreak, shouts of "Let Mubarak fall ... Let Mubarak fall ... Let Mubarak fall" pulsed across the square.

With the unprecedented challenge to Mubarak's 30-year-rule turning increasingly violent, Washington has been urging Egypt to begin the transition of power and move towards elections.

A senior official in the administration of President Barack Obama said various options were being discussed with Egyptian officials, including one in which Mubarak resigned immediately.

"That's one scenario," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There are a number of scenarios, but (it is) wrong to suggest we have discussed only one with the Egyptians."

"THEY SHOULD MIND THEIR OWN BUSINESS"

The New York Times cited U.S. officials and Arab diplomats as saying Washington was discussing a plan for Mubarak to hand over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.

However, it also quoted a senior Egyptian official as saying the constitution did not allow this. "That's my technical answer," he added. "My political answer is they should mind their own business."

Suleiman also hinted at irritation with U.S. interference in a television interview on Thursday.

"There are some abnormal ways by which foreign countries have intervened through press declarations and statements. This was very strange, given the friendly relations between us and them," he said.

Obama and his top aides have carefully avoided calling for Mubarak's resignation, instead insisting that an orderly transition "must begin now".

An estimated 150 people have died in the unrest which was inspired in part by protests in Tunisia which forced Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month and which have since spread to other parts of the Middle East.

In the most dramatic spike in violence, pro-Mubarak supporters attacked protesters in Tahrir Square on Wednesday and pitched battles broke out between the two sides. The government denied accusations by the protesters and international activists that they had instigated the attack.

The government has offered talks on reforms, but that has failed to satisfy protesters who want Mubarak to leave now.

The opposition -- which includes the liberal figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood -- has rejected talks until Mubarak resigns.

They say they want democracy rather than Mubarak's replacement by another leader drawn from the army, which has dominated Egypt since it toppled the monarchy in 1952.

The United States supplies the Egyptian army with about $1.3 billion in aid annually.

Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. Mubarak had also justified his use of emergency rule as needed to curb Islamist militancy in a country where al Qaeda had its ideological roots.

Mubarak described Obama as a very good man, but when asked by ABC if he felt that the United States had betrayed him, he said he told the U.S. president: "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."

(Reporting by Edmund Blair, Samia Nakhoul, Patrick Werr, Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Alexander Dziadosz, Yasmine Saleh, Sherine El Madany, Yannis Behrakis, Jonathan Wright, Andrew Hammond, Tom Perry and Alison Williams in Cairo; writing by Myra MacDonald; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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