massive celebrations were under way across Egypt last night after President Hosni Mubarak finally bowed to pressure following weeks of protests against his 30-year rule.
Massive celebrations were under way across Egypt last night after President Hosni Mubarak finally bowed to pressure following weeks of protests against his 30-year rule. Street demonstrations calling for his exit yesterday grew in strength as international support for his regime ebbed away.
He handed control to the armed forces which appeared to have acted against him following days of crippling pressure.
Last night international leaders called for an early move towards democracy in Egypt.
Following his departure, a crowd running into tens of thousands of people outside the presidential palace in Cairo chanted: “The people ousted the president.”
Several hundred thousand protesters massed in the city’s central Tahrir Square. Car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city after Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national television.
“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands had marched throughout the day in cities across the country as soldiers stood by, besieging the presidential palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state TV building.
Nobel Peace prize winner Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young supporters were among the organisers of the protest movement, said: “This is the greatest day of my life. The country has been liberated after decades of repression.”
Abdel-Rahman Samir, one of the youth organisers, said the protest movement would now open negotiations with the military over democratic reform but vowed protests would continue to ensure change is carried out.
“We still don’t have any guarantees yet – if we end the whole situation now it’s like we haven’t done anything,” he said. “So we need to keep sitting in Tahrir until we get all our demands.” After Mr Mubarak’s resignation, a military spokesman appeared on state TV and promised the army would not act as a substitute for a government based on the “legitimacy of the people”. He said the military was preparing the next steps and needed “to achieve the ambitions of our great nation”.
The former president was believed to have flown to his isolated palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, 250 miles from the turmoil in Cairo.
United States President Barack Obama said the military must lay out a clear path toward fair elections and urged it to “ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people”.
“The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard. And Egypt will never be the same,” he said.
“I’m confident the people of Egypt can find the answers. Egyptians have inspired us, and they’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained by violence. For Egypt, it was the moral force of non-violence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but non-violence, moral force, that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”
Concern remains in Western capitals that the handover of power to the armed forces should not mark the start of a prolonged period of military rule. Neighbouring Israel was also watching the crisis with unease, worried that the 1979 peace treaty could be in danger.
European Union foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said Europe stood ready to help in the transition process.
“The people are giving a very clear message that they want to see democracy,” she said.