Egypt revolution: power meets chaos

EGYPT was on a knife-edge late last night as rumours of an imminent military coup followed a defiant refusal by President Hosni Mubarak to step down, and a call by the powerful vice president for protesters to “go home”.
Moments after Egypt‘s president Hosni Mubarak defiantly announced – again – that he would not step down, nearly a million previously peaceful demonstrators, now incandescent with rage, began to surge from Cairo‘s Tahrir Square towards the presidential palace.
Analysts appeared uncertain as to how the night would play out, as the past two weeks have seen bloody violent clashes between protestors and Mubarak supporters, although the last few days have been marked by peaceful protests in Tahrir square.
 Mubarak‘s address had been widely expected to be an acquiescence to protesters‘ 17 days of widespread street demonstrations demanding that he step down after about 30 years in power, but it proved anything but.
At the time of going to press, speculation was rife that the army would intervene, based partly on reports that at a meeting of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces yesterday afternoon, a senior army officer had declared to cheering protesters, “All your demands will be met tonight.”
The protesters, however, may not accept military leadership. Large groups of people in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square have been chanting “Civilian rule, not military rule.”
Hossan Badrawi, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, said he would like Mubarak to “step aside” and would be “surprised” if he were still in power today.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, meanwhile, had told the BBC that the president may step down. State media reported that he too met with Mubarak yesterday evening.
US diplomatic sources also suggested they had been expecting a different turn of events, and President Barack Obama had hinted that a significant change in leadership was expected.
“What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It‘s a moment of transformation that‘s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change,” Obama said during a visit to Michigan. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit had warned in interviews with Arab and US media that armed forces could be forced into action “if chaos erupts”.
“Such a step could lead to a very dangerous situation,” he said in an interview broadcast by Al Arabiya television yesterday. Tanks have been stationed outside Mubarak‘s residence in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis during the protests.
Precise casualty figures have not been confirmed, but the United Nations said last week it had received reports of 300 dead in the demonstrations. – Staff writer and Sapa-dpa

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