ElBaradei tells Cairo crowds: 'Change is coming.'

Speaking in Tahrir Square tonight, Mohammed ElBaradei, mandated by opposition groups to negotiate with President Mubarak's regime, hailed 'a new Egypt in which every Egyptian lives in freedom and dignity.'

epa02557549 Egyptian Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei speaks to the protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, 30 January 2011. Mohammed El Baradei told protesters in Tahrir Square in central Cairo that Egypt was witnessing an 'historic day' and that the process of change would move forward.  EPA/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE *** Local Caption ***  02557549.jpg
Powered by automated translation

Mohammed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the opposition to Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, told a sea of angry protesters in Cairo tonight that they were beginning a new era after six days of revolt against embattled the government.

Mr ElBaradei, mandated by Egyptian opposition groups including the banned Muslim Brotherhood to negotiate with Mr Mubarak's regime, hailed "a new Egypt in which every Egyptian lives in freedom and dignity."

"We are on the right path, our strength is in our numbers," Mr ElBaradei said in his first address to the protest epicentre on Cairo's Tahrir square. "I ask you to be patient, change is coming."

"We will sacrifice our soul and our blood for the nation," the angry crowd shouted. "The people want to topple the president."

Six days of nationwide protests against Mr Mubarak's three-decade rule have shaken Egypt and left at least 125 people dead as the veteran leader clings to power.

Mr Mubarak has struggled to placate a nation angry at this three decades of autocratic rule with token gestures such as sacking the government.

Parliament speaker Fathi Surour today made another concession, saying the results of last year's fraud-tainted parliamentary elections would be revised.

Mr Mubarak met army comamnders seen as holding the key to his future as warplanes, in an apparent show of force, flew over the downtown Cairo protest.

A number of foreign governments said they would evacuate their nationals, while the United States authorised the departure of embassy families.

State television said the embattled Mr Mubarak visited Egypt's central military command today, where he met his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, the military intelligence chief; as well as with the departing defence minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantaw,i and the chief of staff, Sami Anan.

Mr Mubarak, a former air force chief, appeared to be seeking the army support as he faces down the revolt which those driving it say will continue until he steps down.

The United States, a key ally of Egypt, called today on Mr Mubarak to do more to defuse the crisis but stopped short of saying he should quit.

As he was meeting the army chiefs, two Egyptian fighter jets flew repeat low-altitude sorties over Cairo, deafening the protest-hit city.

"Mubarak, go to Saudi Arabia," the crowd shouted, encouraging the leader in power for 30 years to follow deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile.

A banner in English read: "USA, why do you support the tyrant and not the people."

A group of women shouted: "1, 2, where's the people's money?"

The National Coalition for Change, which groups several opposition movements including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, today handed Mr ElBaradei the task of negotiating with Mr Mubarak's embattled regime.

With fears of insecurity rising and a death toll of at least 125, thousands of convicts broke out prisons across Egypt overnight after they overwhelmed guards or after prison personnel fled their posts.

An AFP correspondent saw 14 bodies in a mosque near Cairo's Abu Zaabal prison, which a resident said were of two police and the rest convicts.

Troops set up checkpoints on roads to riot-hit prisons, stopping and searching cars for escaped convicts.

Among those who escaped were senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as members of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, some of whom made it back to the Gaza Strip via smuggling tunnels.

With rampant pillaging in more than five days of deadly protests, many Egyptians believe that the police have deliberately released prisoners in order to spread chaos and emphasise the need for the security forces.

"The government wants the people to think that Mubarak is the only option faced with the chaos," said a young demonstrator, Sameh Kamal.

Groups of club-carrying vigilantes have deployed on Cairo's streets to protect from looters amid growing insecurity as the Arab world's most populous nation faced an uncertain future.

Youths handed over to the army those they suspected of looting, with the police who had been fighting running battles with stone-throwing protesters in the first days of the demonstrations hardly visible.

Many petrol stations are now running out of fuel, motorists said, and many bank cash machines have either been looted or are no longer working. Egyptian banks and the stock exchange have been ordered closed on Sunday.

Yesterday Mr Mubarak named Mr Suleiman as his first-ever vice president and also a new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, but protesters dismissed the moves as too little, too late.

Both men are stalwarts of Egypt's all-powerful military establishment.

Mr Suleiman, 75, has spearheaded years of Egyptian efforts to clinch an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and tried so far in vain to mediate an inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

Mr Shafiq, 69, is respected by the Egyptian elite, even among the opposition, and has often been mooted as a potential successor to Mr Mubarak.

In Washington, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton ,called for an "orderly transition" in Egypt but stopped short of demanding he step down.

Asked if Mr Mubarak had taken sufficient steps to defuse Egypt's worst crisis in decades by appointing a vice president and naming a new premier, Mrs Clinton told ABC: "Of course not."

"That is the beginning, the bare beginning of what needs to happen, which is a process that leads to the kind of concrete steps to achieve democratic and economic reform that we've been urging."

The Obama administration, she added, has not discussed cutting off aid to Egypt, a key Arab ally. US military aid to Egypt amounts to $1.3 billion a year, and the total American aid bill to the country averages close to $2 billion annually.

In other developments on Sunday:

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in Jerusalem that Israel is carefully watching developments in Egypt and its efforts are focused on maintaining the "stability and security" of the region.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called for "restraint, non-violence and respect for fundamental rights" in Egypt, addressing the African Union summit that opened in Addis Ababa.

Stock markets in several Gulf countries, where many leading firms have interests in Egypt, slumped today,, while the bourse in Cairo did not even open.