Egyptians serve ultimatum on Mubarak to leave by Friday
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Last Updated: Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 00:26
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.


First Published: Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 00:26

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