Egyptians serve ultimatum on Mubarak to leave by Friday

Embattled President Hosni Mubarak sacked his interior min in a cabinet rejig.

Cairo: Embattled President Hosni Mubarak
on Monday sacked his interior minister in a revamped cabinet and
appointed a new intelligence chief to mollify opposition
groups which called for a million people to take to Cairo`s
streets tomorrow to demand his ouster.

Habib al-Adly, widely despised by the protesters, was
axed and was replaced by Mahmud Wagdi, a police general and
former head of criminal investigations department.

Mubarak, 82, facing the first serious challenge to his
30-year-rule, appointed a top general Murad Mowafi, a former
north Sinai governor, as the new intelligence chief. Mowafi
takes over charge from Omar Suleiman who has been appointed
Vice President.

State television showed Mubarak shaking hands with the
new ministers after they were sworn in. Foreign Minister Ahmed
Abul Gheit and Defence Minister Gen Mohamed Hussein Tantaw
retain their posts in the new cabinet line up.

The new team dominated by regime veterans was, however,
rejected by the protesters. Stepping up their campaign, a
coalition of opposition groups called a general strike and
hoped to put up a massive show of strength tomorrow to force
Mubarak to leave the country by Friday.

The coalition including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood
also served an ultimatum, telling the powerful army to choose
between "Egypt or Mubarak", indicating that a decisive stage
in the confrontation may be near. The death toll in seven days
of violence has crossed 150 already.

Anti-Mubarak sentiments reached a feverish pitch, as
thousands converged on Tahrir or Liberation Square -- the hub
of the protests in the heart of Cairo -- to make the call for
a "million man march" tomorrow.

The protesters waved placards "Down with Mubarak" as
they defied assembled tanks and armoured carriers backing
heavily-armed contingents of Army, police and secret police.
The call by the so called `April 6 Shabab Movement`
came as an indefinite countrywide strike gripped the nation,
paralysing all essential services, including government
offices, banks and trading centres.

As the oust Mubarak campaign gained momentum,
American and other world leaders ramped up pressure calling
for an-orderly transition in the violence-rocked country.

The `Shabab` movement which has been formed of all
opposition groups and the leaders declared that the march
would start from Tahrir Square, and was aimed at forcing
Mubarak to step down by Friday.

The opposition also enforced a countrywide general
strike today with most of major Egyptian cities, including the
capital Cairo, Alexandria observing a total shutdown.

As the confrontation between the protesters and the
embattled President entered what appeared to be a decisive
stage, thousands of foreigners began a beeline to leave the
country, with nations scrambling to send planes to fly their
citizens out of Cairo`s international airport, where complete
choas existed.

On his part, the 82-year-old defiant Mubarak ordered
his new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to move quickly to bring
in political, legislative and constitutional reforms to stem
the tide.

His directions to Shafiq in a letter were read out on
state TV but had no discernible effect on protesters who vowed
to continue their demonstrations until Mubarak steps down.

The new PM ordered the police and military back onto
the streets as fears of insecurity were rising with thousands
of convicts including hardline Islamists fleeing jails after
overwhelming guards.

All trains have been cancelled after organisers of a
week of anti-regime protests said they would organise a `march
of a million` to get Mubarak to quit, state television said.

Several petrol stations ran out of fuel and ATMs in
the upmarket areas were looted or were not working.

The protests broke out last Tuesday giving vent to
peoples` anger over three decades of repression, rampant
corruption, lack of democracy and good governance.

Terming the reforms as "too little and too late," the
protesters continued their sit-in at the Tahrir Square saying
they would not budge till Mubarak resigns, with indications
that the autocratic ruler`s fate rests with the military.

As the focus shifted on the influential army for a
smooth transition of power, protesters enforced a countrywide
general strike.

Pro-democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Mohammad
ElBaradei, who defied house arrest to join the protesters at
the Tahrir Square, asked the embattled president to "step down
today itself."

"It is loud and clear from everybody in Egypt that
Mubarak has to leave today," ElBaradei said in an interview
aired on CNN.

"He needs to leave today... to be followed by a smooth
transition (to) a national unity government to be followed by
all the measures set in place for a free and fair election."

Army positioned tanks around the square and were
checking the identity papers, but were letting protesters in.

Egyptian judges and scholars from world`s prestigious
Islamic seminary Al-Azhar joined the mass protests, calling
for an end to Mubarak`s rule.

France 24 Television channel quoted a senior US
official as saying that President Barack Obama`s national
security aides believe "Mubarak`s time had passed".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an
"orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt, saying the
legitimate grievances of the people will have to be addressed.