Reports: Mubarak May Step Down

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak looks on during his meeting with Emirates foreign minister, not pictured, at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011. The meeting is the first show for Mubarak in front of international media following the country's Jan. 28, protests. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) Amr Nabil

Updated 1:55 p.m. ET

CAIRO -- Egyptian state television has confirmed that President Hosni Mubarak will address the nation Thursday night from his palace in Cairo, amid strong indications that he is preparing to concede to protesters and step down.

The Egyptian military announced on national television Thursday that it has stepped in to "safeguard the country" and assured protesters that Mubarak will meet their demands in the strongest indication yet that Egypt's longtime leader has lost power.

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The dramatic announcement showed that the military was taking control after 17 days of protests demanding Mubarak's immediate ouster spiraled out of control.

In Washington, the CIA Director Leon Panetta said there was a "strong likelihood" Mubarak will step down.

Still, it was unclear late Thursday how much power Mubarak might give up, or whether he would indeed step down at all. On State television, Egypt's information minister denied the reports of Mubarak's plans to concede.

Anas el-Fiqq's comment raises the possibility that Mubarak could announce a half-measure, such as keeping his title while relinquishing his executive powers.

Al-Arabiya Television has reported that Mubarak would "step aside" - handing power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, but officially remaining president. Amid the rumors, state television reported that Mubarak was meeting with Suleiman at the presidential palace in Heliopolis.

"What is absolutely clear is that we witnessing history unfolding," President Barack Obama said Thursday, speaking at a public event in Marquette, Mich. "It's a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change."

"It's young people who have been at the forefront - a new generation, your generation," the president said, talking to students at Marquette's Northern Michigan University. He reiterated that his administration is closely following the events in Cairo and that "America will continue doing everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt."

Earlier Thursday, Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, told thousands of protesters in central Tahrir Square, "All your demands will be met today." Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs, shouting "the people want the end of the regime" and "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," a victory cry used by secular and religious people alike.

Soldiers, including army officers, were seen turning in their weapons to join protesters in Tahrir, according to CBS News' Khaled Wassef and numerous reports on Twitter.

CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy reports he is amid thousands of exultant Egyptians in Tahrir Square, where people here all think Mubarak now has no option but to stand down, despite the lack of an official announcement.

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"We have won," Alia Zayda, a 22-year-old law graduate told McCarthy. "I am so proud to be an Egyptian tonight".

Hard core protesters have been sleeping here for two weeks, more recently joined by people from all walks of life.

Dr Hani Yusuf, a neurosurgeon, brought his wife and two young daughters. "This means a better life for them," he said.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq has said that it would be a good idea for Mubarak to step down, and that appears to be what will happen, reports CBS News correspondent Liz Palmer.

But there's also no real news yet on how the transition of power would work. Crucially, the military appears to be taking the reins, probably hand-in-hand with Suleiman, Palmer reports, but nobody knows yet whether they are going to very rapidly come up with a plan for democratic transition and date for new elections.

If that does not happen this will look to have been a coup, which is not a victory for the demonstrators. If on the other hand there is a clear plan for the road ahead that looks as if we are heading for a true democratic transition the biggest party in the world will be taking place here in Cairo tomorrow.

The military's supreme council convened Thursday - tellingly, without the commander in chief Mubarak - and announced on state TV its "support of the legitimate demands of the people." A spokesman read a statement that the council was in permanent session to explore "what measures and arrangements could be made to safeguard the nation, its achievements and the ambitions of its great people."

The statement was labeled "communique number 1," a phrasing that suggests a military coup.

Footage on state TV showed Defense Minster Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi chairing the meeting of two dozen top stern-faced army officers, seated around a table. At Tantawi's right was military chief of staff Gen. Sami Anan. Not present was Mubarak, the commander in chief and a former air force chief, or his vice president, Omar Suleiman, a former army general and intelligence chief named to his post after the protests erupted Jan. 25.

Rumors are flying thick and fast, Palmer reports. State television has said that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is in permanent session and that the military will look after the interests and safety of the people.

"The whole country is waiting to see what this means," Palmer said.

One U.S. intelligence official who spoke to CBS News correspondent David Martin called Egypt a "danger zone" because crowds' expectations of real change could be dashed by a symbolic transition of power that delivers none. Mubarak has made only small concessions so far, and even Suleiman is seen by many in Egypt and abroad as a closely-allied establishment figure who is not fundamentally different from Mubarak.

Rumors circulated rapidly on the square.

One quickly refuted rumor was that Mubarak had fled to another Arab country. Another said that he had gone to the Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh. (Although official sources said that a Mubarak address would come from the palace in Cairo Thursday night, it was unclear whether the broadcast would be live or pre-recorded.)

Mainly, the crowd prayed for a peaceful end to the weeks of uprising, reports CBS News' Erin George in Cairo. But protesters also said they would march on Mubarak's home if he does not relinquish power Thursday night.

The moves came after protests Thursday increasingly spiraled out of the control of authorities trying to contain the crisis. Labor strikes erupted around the country in the past two days, state employees revolted against their directors and workers began joining the anti-Mubarak protesters centered for the past 17 days in Tahrir Square.

On Thursday, hundreds of lawyers in black robes broke through a police cordon and marched on one of Mubarak's palaces -- the first time protesters had done so, even though the president was not in the building, Abdeen Palace, several blocks from Tahrir. Police lined up in front of the palace gates stepped aside for the marchers.

Tens of thousands were massed in Tahrir itself, joined by striking doctors who marched in their white lab coats from a state hospital to the square and lawyers who broke with their pro-government union to join in.

"Now we're united in one goal. The sun of the people has risen and it will not set again," one of the lawyers, Said Bakri, said before the series of military announcements.

The spread of labor unrest was in part in direct response to calls from protesters as strikers joined in the movement. But there also seemed to be another element -- locals unleashing long pent-up resentment at specific symbols of the state, whether it was an unpopular local police commander, a state factory seen as stiffing workers or a governor failing to follow through on promises.

A crowd of 4,000 angry over lack of housing rioted in the Suez Canal city of Port Said on Thursday for a second straight day. They marched on the local state security headquarters, demanded those inside leave, then stormed the building, set fire to part of it and six police cars. Police did not intervene. A day earlier they torched the governor's home and offices.

Vice President Suleiman and the foreign minister have been warning of the possibility of a coup or imposition of martial law if the protesters did not agree to a government-directed framework of negotiations for reforms. The protesters demanded Mubarak step down first.

  • CBSNews.com wire services

    CBSNews.com wire services

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