Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square react in dismay as President Hosni Mubarak announces he will transfer power, but insists on staying in office until September.
In a televised address to the Egyptian nation Hosni Mubarak said he would stay in office to oversee a peaceful transition.
Powers are to be transferred to Vice President Omar Suleiman, according to the constitution, to prove that the demands of protesters will be met by dialogue, President Mubarak said.
In his speech the President said Egypt was heading “day after day” to a peaceful transfer of power and he was committed to protect the constitution until that happens.
He said he was proposing amending a number of articles of the constitution and proposed cancelling article 179 giving powers regarding terrorism cases. He said dialogue with the opposition had led to a preliminary consensus to resolve the crisis.
Earlier, the Secretary General of the ruling NDP party, Dr Hossam Badrawi, told Channel 4 News exclusively that Mubarak was reluctant to stand aside, but realised it was time for change.
“He made mistakes but he sees himself as someone that does not deserve getting out of power, of his service, that way,” Dr Badrawi told Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum.
“At the same time he realises that it’s the time to change.”
Egypt’s armed forces earlier announced they were taking measures to safeguard the nation and the aspirations of the people.
For more than two weeks Egypt has faced unprecedented anti-government protests and strikes across the country, with the at-times violent response of the authorities leaving at least 300 people dead and hundreds more wounded.
On the seventeenth day of protest, hundreds of thousands gathered in the capital, Cairo, to hear the president’s address.
Protesters waved shoes in disappointment at the address following rumours that Mubarak would announce his resignation.
Prostesters chanted, “down, down with Hosni Mubarak,” and “leave, leave,” in rage at the speech in which the president did not step down but handed over powers to his vice president.
Before Mubarak’s announcement was aired on state television, thousands of protesters continued to pour into Tahrir Square in Cairo which has become the focus for anti-government unrest, with many demonstrators sleeping in the streets for days.
Doctors and lawyers on strike joined the gathering today while across the country workers staged sit-ins and protested at local institutions.
Al Arabiya television reported tonight that Egypt’s army has warned that it will act if protesters refuse a plan of transferring power from President Hosni Mubarak to Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Speaking to a public meeting in Michigan before the Mubarak announcement, President Obama said that the world was “watching history unfold”.
He added: “We want all Egyptians to know that America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.”
A number of politicians and analysts expressed concern about the future role of the army if unrest continues, with opposition figures fearing a “coup”.
Analyst Michael Hanna from the Century Foundation said on his Twitter feed: “Will people be satisfied under military rule?
“This could create splits among the opposition, and that is probably what the army is hoping for.”
On Thursday Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt called on Egypt to say whether it has arrested Briton Hisham Morsi who has been missing in the country since 31 January.
Special Report: Arab revolt - Channel 4 News and analysis on the unrest
As protesters battled with police and refused to leave the streets of Cairo, many opposition activists were arrested and detained by the authorities.
The British government said it was “deeply concerned” the missing Briton who was last seen being removed from Tahrir Square on 31 January – but it remains unclear by whom and whether he was arrested.
He raised the case with the Egyptian ambassador yesterday and said it was vital Cairo met a promise to cease “arresting and harassing journalists, foreigners and members of the opposition”.
“We had been given public and private assurances by the Egyptian government that no activists remained in detention,” Mr Burt said in a statement.
“In light of this, I call on the Egyptian authorities to urgently clarify whether Mr Morsi has been arrested, and if so, to inform our embassy of his whereabouts and provide our embassy with full and immediate consular access.
“I raised this case with the Egyptian Ambassador yesterday, and our embassy in Cairo continues to make representations to the authorities in Egypt.