Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down following 18 days of anti-government protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square. This announcement came just hours after an army pledge to guarantee free and fair elections.
The military exercised restraint throughout the crisis
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Friday, following more than two weeks of anti-government protests in the capital, Cairo. In a brief statement read out on television, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak had handed over power to the military.
"Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state's affairs," Suleiman said.
Upon learning of the news, hundreds of thousands of people who had gathered in a mass demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square erupted into cheers.
The announcement came after 18 days of anti-government protests in the square. Just hours earlier, the Egyptian army had issued a statement in which it promised to ensure that free and fair elections are held and that 30-year-old emergency laws are lifted.
The statement, Communique No. 2, which was issued following a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said the emergency measures would be lifted "as soon as the current circumstances are over." It also called on government workers to return to work following a series of wildcat strikes over the past few days.
This was seen as an effort by the army, which has exercised restraint throughout the crisis, to persuade protesters to end their demonstrations.
Fuelled by frustration
Friday's rally was fuelled by frustration over a speech by Mubarak on Thursday. Instead of announcing he was stepping down, as the protesters had hoped, Mubarak initially said he would hand over powers to Vice President Suleiman.
Vice President Suleiman made the announcement in a brief statement
The demonstration on Tahrir Square spread to other locations in the Eqyptian capital, with thousands of protesters gathering outside both President Mubarak's palace and the state television building. The president's main official residence was being protected by tanks and soldiers of the elite Republican guard.
A couple of hours before his resignation was announced, there were reports that Mubarak and his family had had left Cairo from a military airbase. There were believed to be bound for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
News of Mubarak's decision to step down was welcomed by the European Union.
The EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement that Mubarak had "listened to the voices of the Egyptian people" and paved the way for reforms. She also called for accelerated dialogue leading to a "broad-based government which will respect the aspirations of and deliver stability for the Egyptian people."
Author: Chuck Penfold (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton