Mubarak Remains Defiant, Says He Won't Step Down

CAIRO - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying he was speaking "from the heart," announced on state television that he accepts the protests against his rule as legitimate but refuses to step down until September.

Mubarak also made mention of transferring authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman, although the scope and details of the authority he will transfer were not provided. Adding to the confusion, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry, later told CNN that all presidential authority has been transferred to Suleiman, making him a "de facto Head of State." However, Mubarak will remain in the seat of the presidency, and it is unclear what power he will have over the coming reform process.

Protesters in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, hoping Mubarak would announce his resignation outright, watched in stunned silence to his speech, slapping their hands to their foreheads in anger, some crying or waving their shoes in the air in a sign of contempt. After he finished, they resumed their chants of "Leave! Leave! Leave!"

After Mubarak's speech, opposition figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted: "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now."

Immediately following Mubarak's speech, Suleiman himself took to state television and told protesters to go home. He added: "Do not listen to the satellite stations that have no objective but to have sedition and to weaken Egypt. Listen to your consequences about the dangers that are around you."

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The White House responded to the speeches from Mubarak and Suleiman with skepticism. In a statement, President Obama said:

"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient. Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world. The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity."

Mubarak spoke to the nation from the presidential palace in Cairo in a speech broadcast on state-run television.

He said he had requested six constitutional amendments to answer protesters' reform demands and that he would lift hated emergency laws - but with the caveat, "when security permitted," a promise that his vice president made earlier this week but was dismissed by protesters.

Rejecting "foreign dictations," according to a translator, Mubarak told the Egyptian nation that he will continue keep his "oath" to guide Egypt for the next several months in its transition to the next president.

The massive crowd in Tahrir Square - a focal point of anti-government demonstrators - reacted with growing ire bordering on rage to Mubarak's speech, according to several media reports.

Hossam el-Hamalaway, an Egyptian blogger who has taken part in the protest for some time, tweeted after the speech: "(Mubarak) is not stepping down. We have to bring this (explicative) from his palace and hang him in Tahrir Square."

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.

In contrast to the apparent rage reported in Tahrir Sqaure over Mubarak's speech, youth protest leader Wael Ghonim told CBS News he can live with Mubarak's offer. Ghonim said: "For me, like, you know, preserving his dignity would be something I understand, and, you know, I'm not sure if the people in Tahrir Square would connect to his - you know, to his speech. I hope they would."

Some Egypt watchers speculated that Mubarak's defiant speech was specifically designed to provoke the anger of protesters and perhaps incite them to violence, thus inviting a violent crackdown.

In the closing paragraph of his speech, Mubarak said:"I will not leave (Egypt) or depart it until I am buried in the ground."

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Earlier Thursday, the Egyptian military announced on national television that it has stepped in to "safeguard the country" and assured protesters that Mubarak would meet their demands.

Protests have raged for 17 days now throughout the country. The size and furor of the demonstrations have ebbed and flowed, but have taken on new strength in the past two days in Cairo, with workers staging mass strikes that have slowed, if not crippled, daily life in Egypt.

The anti-government protests only briefly took a violent turn late last month as pro-Mubarak forces appeared en masse and instigated fights with the opposition. The army later intervened and the Egyptian government renounced the violence and promised an investigation. There were indications that powers close to Mubarak, including his secret police, were responsible for the sieges.

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.

Latest Tahrir Square pictures on CBS News Facebook page

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.

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.

Nation-wide 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.

  • wire services wire services