Egyptian protesters pack squares; march on Mubarak's palace

Army issues statement supporting Mubarak's plan to transfer some power to VP, stay in office until September elections; Egyptian president reportedly flees Cairo with family.

Egyptian protesters march 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Egyptian protesters march 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Egypt's powerful military backed President Hosni Mubarak's plan to stay in office until September elections, but massive crowds outraged by his refusal to step down packed squares in Egypt's two biggest cities Cairo and Alexandria on Friday. They marched on Mubarak's presidential palaces and blockaded state television in a move against symbols of his authoritarian regime.
Various media outlets reported that Mubarak had taken his family and fled Cairo, possibly to Sharm el-Sheikh.
RELATED:Impatient, Obama sharply questions Mubarak pledgeEgypt's Mubarak stays in post, hands powers to VPEditor's Notes: ‘Maybe this is the moment to put our trust in freedom'Above the Fray: Lessons for Israel from Egypt
The Armed Forces Supreme Council, a body of top generals, depicted itself as the champion of reform, promising to make sure Mubarak's leadership carries out promised change and lifts hated emergency laws immediately once protests end, an attempt to win over a population where the army is more trusted than politicians.
But its statement was a heavy blow to many protesters who called on the military to take action to push Mubarak out after he announced on state TV Thursday night that he would hand most of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but remain in office. With the speech, Mubarak showed a blunt determination not to bend in the face of the biggest mass uprising in Egypt's history, now in its 18th day.
"What are you waiting for?" one protester yelled in the face of an army officer outside Mubarak's main palace, Oruba, in northern Cairo, where a crowd of demonstrators grew to more than 1,000. "Did you sign an oath and pledge your allegiance to the president or the people?" another shouted. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of barbed wire, but soldiers did nothing to stop more people from joining the rally.
The marches on the palace were the first by protesters who for nearly three weeks have centered their mass demonstrations in Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in EgyptClick here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Tahrir Square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd that seemed to rival the quarter-million figure of the biggest protests over the past 18 days. More than 100,000 massed in the main square in Egypt's second biggest city, Alexandria, on the Mediterranean. In the afternoon, the giant crowd began marching towards Ras el-Tin Palace, Mubarak's main residence in the city.
Anti-government protesters said they were more determined than ever, and in the multiple demonstrations protesters continued to try to win military support, chanting "the people and the army are one hand."
"Protesting and striking are fundamental rights and the most powerful available means to bring down the regime, so let's be steadfast and united. Right is above might we shall be victorious," Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, whose supporters are among the youth activists organizing the protest movement, said in a Tweet on Friday.
More than 1,000 protesters formed a human barricade in front of the towering building that houses state TV and radio, a pro-Mubarak bastion that has aired constant commentary supporting him and dismissing the protests. Tanks and barbed wire surrounded the building overlooking the Nile River, but troops did not keep protesters away, or to stop them as they blocked employees from entering the building.
Others massed outside the Cabinet and parliament buildings, both largely empty, several blocks from Tahrir.
The military statement, labeled "Communique No. 2" after a statement a day earlier, endorsed Mubarak's plan to transfer some powers to Omar Suleiman.
But it said it would make sure that Mubarak and Suleiman — both military men — stuck to their promises. The armed forces, it said, "are committed to shepherding the legitimate demands of the people and to work for their implementation within a defined timetable until achieving a peaceful transition all through a democratic society."