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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak steps down, puts army in charge

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 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.

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Friday, following more than two weeks of anti-government protests in the capital, Cairo.  In a statement read out on television, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had handed over power to the military.

Upon learning of the news tens of thousands of people 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. It came just hours after a pledge by the Egyptian army that it would 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, which attracted tens of thousands of protesters, 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 Omar Suleiman. 

Friday's demonstration on Tahrir Square spread to other locations in the Eqyptian capital, with thousands of protesters have gathered outside of 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.

International criticism

Thursday's speech, in which some had expected the president to announce that he was stepping down, was criticized by members of the international community. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the speech "was not the step forward that had been hoped for."

US President Barack Obama issued a statement, saying it was not clear the suggested transfer of power "is immediate, meaningful or sufficient."

Author: Chuck Penfold (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Michael Knigge/Jennifer Abramsohn