Waves of Euphoria in Egypt as Mubarak Departs

CAIRO - Hundreds of thousands of protesters massed in Cairo's central Tahrir Square exploded into joy, cheering and waving Egyptian flags Friday following the abrupt resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Fireworks, car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million in joy after Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on state television just after nightfall. Suleiman said in a very brief statement that the Egyptian military will run the country's affairs for the time being.

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Protesters - first youth, and increasingly all kinds of Egyptians by the millions - have protested for nearly three weeks to end Mubarak's 29-year reign.

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"The people have toppled the regime," chanted protesters, whose 18 days of swelling protests tipped Egypt into a crisis that the autocratic government could not undo.

One Egyptian kissed the ground. Another rolled in ecstasy in the grass outside a presidential palace. People wept, jumped, screamed and hugged each other with a shared joy they had never known. Cairo erupted in a cacophony of celebration: fireworks and car horns and gunshots in the air.

"This is the happiest day in my generation," said Ali al-Tayab, a 24-year-old demonstrator who paid tribute to those who died in clashes with police and Mubarak supporters. "To the martyrs, this is your day."

At a presidential palace in Cairo, where demonstrators had gathered in the thousands, people flashed the V-for-victory sign and shouted, "Be happy, Egyptians, today is a feast" and "He stepped down."

Many prayed and declared: "God is great."

Outside Mubarak's Oruba Palace in northern Cairo, women on balconies ululated with the joyous tongue-trilling used to mark weddings and births.

"Finally, we are free," said 60-year-old Safwan Abou Stat. "From now on, anyone who is going to rule will know that these people are great."

The crowd has been exceptionally peaceful and protest leaders have repeatedly said that they will not resort to violence, reports CBS News correspondent Liz Palmer in Cairo. Apparently in jubilation, one group of protesters broke through the barricades surrounding the building that houses Egypt's state television, but there were few reports of rioting or destruction.

The army is now very much in public favor, Palmer reports. If the military allows the celebrations to carry on for some time - perhaps hours or perhaps a few days - it will likely be in a credible position to ask the protesters to go home so that the country can begin returning to normal business and a democratic reform process. If the army plays its cards right, the people will obey, Palmer reports

"Finally we are free," said Safwan Abo Stat, a 60-year-old in the crowd of protesters at the palace. "From now on anyone who is going to rule will know that these people are great."

Another, Mohammed el-Masry, weeping with joy, said he had spent the past two weeks in Tahrir before marching to the palace Friday. He was now headed back to the square to join his ecstatic colleagues. "We made it," he gasped.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young supporters were among the organizers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press, "This is the greatest day of my life."

"The country has been liberated after decades of repression," he said adding that he expects a "beautiful" transition of power.

In Egypt's second-largest city, Alexandria, hundreds of thousands of people massed on the main road along the ocean. People stopped driving, getting out of and on top of their cars and singing the national anthem, a reporter said on Al Jazeera English. He said that he was witnessing euphoria that exceeds anything that had seen in his lifetime.

Mubarak's departure also sparked celebrations in Tunisia, where protests toppled the government in mid-January, creating what many saw as a domino effect in the Arab world. Thousands of people celebrated in the streets and a demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy took on a party atmosphere.

  • CBSNews.com wire services

    CBSNews.com wire services

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