By MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press
CAIRO (AP) - Egypt's Hosni Mubarak refused to step down or leave the country and instead handed his powers to his vice president Thursday, remaining president and ensuring regime control over the reform process. Stunned protesters in central Cairo who demand his ouster waved their shoes in contempt and shouted, "Leave, leave, leave."
The crowd in Tahrir Square had swollen to several hundred thousand in expectation that Mubarak would announce is resignation in the nighttime address to the nation. Instead, they watched in shocked silence, slapping their foreheads in anger and disbelief. Some broke into tears. After he finished, they broke out into chants for him to go.
Immediately after Mubarak's speech, Vice President Omar Suleiman called on the protesters to "go home" and asked Egyptians to "unite and look to the future."
The pair of addresses followed a series of dramatic events Thursday evening that had raised expectations Mubarak was about to announce his resignation. In a surprise step, the military announced on state TV that its Supreme Council was in permanent session in scenes that suggested the armed forces were taking control, perhaps to ensure Mubarak goes. The top general for the Cairo area told protesters in the square that "all their demands" would be satisfied, and the protesters lifted him on their shoulders, believing that meant the end of Mubarak's nearly 30-year authoritarian rule.
Instead, Mubarak went on the air several hours later, delivering a 10-minute address that suggested little has changed. Suleiman was already leading the regime's efforts to deal with the crisis, but the announcement gives him official power with Mubarak leading in name only. There was no immediate military reaction.
"I saw fit to delegate the authorities of the president to the vice president, as dictated in the constitution," Mubarak said near the end of the speech.
The constitution allows the president to transfer his powers if he is unable to carry out his duties "due to any temporary obstacle," but it does not mean his resignation.
Mubarak, who looked frail but spoke in a determined, almost defiant voice, said he would stay in the country and that he is "adamant to continue to shoulder my responsibility to protect the constitution and safeguard the interests of the people ... until power is handed over to those elected in September by the people in free and fair elections in which all the guarantees of transparencies will be secured."
Mubarak said that the demands of protesters for democracy are just and legitimate, but he adhered tightly to a framework for reform that Suleiman drew up and that protesters have roundly rejected, fearing it will mean only cosmetic change and not real democracy.
He said he had requested the amendment of five articles of the constitution to loosen the now restrictive conditions on who can run for president, to restore judicial supervision of elections, and to impose term limits on the presidency.
He also annulled a constitutional article that gives the president the right to order a military trial for civilians accused of terrorism. He said that step would "clear the way" for eventually scrapping a hated emergency law but with a major caveat - "once security and stability are restored."
The emergency law, imposed when Mubarak came to power in 1981, gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest.
After the speech, some protesters left the square, tears in the eyes. But the majority of the crowd remained, planning to camp for the night.
"The speech is a provocation," said Muhammed Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old lawyer who had joined the protesters for the first time Thursday. "This is going to bring people together more, and people will come out in greater numbers."
Hazem Khalifa, a young chemist in the crowd, vowed protests would continue. "He's tried to divide people before, now the people understand him and they've learned his ways," he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)