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Protests swell as Egyptians dismiss political concessions

Despite promises of a plan for constitutional change, Egyptians have staged one of their biggest protests to date in Cairo, demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters in Tahir Square

Protesters say they are there for the long haul

Protesters in Egypt have dismissed the government's apparent political concessions as playing for time, and on Tuesday promptly redoubled their efforts to take their case to the streets.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters again gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, filling it completely for the third time since the unrest broke out on January 25.

The anti-government activists pledged to continue their protests until President Hosni Mubarak resigns. The president has maintained he will complete his term, which expires in September.

The United States urged Egypt to lift emergency laws immediately and launch democratic reforms. But Mubarak's newly appointed deputy, Vice President Omar Suleiman, warned that hasty reforms could spell "chaos" in the Arab world's most populous nation.

He added that the country "can't put up with" continued protests. He said the crisis must be ended as soon as possible, in a sign of increasing impatience after 12 days of upheaval.

Making concessions

Protesters in Tahrir Square

Tuesday's protest in Tahrir Square was one of the biggest to date

Mubarak's move to form two committees that will examine possible constitutional reforms was the first apparent concession to protesters, though it was not particularly well received.

It came as talks between Egypt's government and opposition groups were set to resume following an inconclusive first round of negotiations on Sunday. The main opposition Muslim Brotherhood said after those talks that it would only continue a dialogue if its key demands, which include Mubarak's resignation, constitutional changes, freedom of press and an end to a state of emergency, are met.

Suleiman said Tuesday that Mubarak had agreed to set up a committee that would look into constitutional changes, including relaxing the rules for who can run for president and limiting the number of presidential terms. Another committee would monitor the implementation of the reforms.

"A clear road map has been put in place with a set timetable to realize the peaceful and organized transfer of power," Suleiman said after briefing Mubarak on the talks with the opposition. He added that the committees would begin their work on Tuesday.

A third committee is to investigate the violent clashes between pro-and anti-government supporters. Suleiman also said Mubarak had ordered an end to repressive measures against the opposition.

Speaking to reporters in Washington after talks with his French counterpart Alain Juppé, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it was "critical" that the government embark on an orderly democratic transition process. That was echoed by Juppé, who added that "it is necessary today to bet on the emergence of democratic forces."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Mubarak said he would not run for re-election in September

Asylum in Germany?

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle dismissed media speculation that Mubarak had asked for medical help and might return to a clinic in the southwestern German town of Heidelberg for treatment, allowing the 82-year-old an opportunity to leave the country without being forcibly exiled.

"I am currently not aware of such a request and therefore see no reason to contribute to the speculation," Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin.

Mubarak has previously undergone medical treatment in Germany on at least two occasions.

Several opposition politicians said they would not support a government decision to help Mubarak leave Egypt for Germany.

Jürgen Trittin, co-chairman of the Green party's parliamentary group, said such a move would amount to "asylum for a deposed despot," and would be poorly received by the Egyptian people.

Author: Rob Mudge, Mark Hallam (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

Editor: Martin Kuebler

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