- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CAIRO — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday he will not run for a new term in office in September elections and will work during the rest of his term for a “peaceful transfer of power” in a new attempt to defuse massive protests demanding his immediate ouster.

In a speech aired on state TV Tuesday night, Mr. Mubarak said, “In all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term.”

He said he will work during “the final months of my current term” to carry out the “necceasary steps for the peaceful transfer of power.”

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. officials said a visiting envoy of President Obama told Mr. Mubarak Tuesday that the U.S. sees his presidency at an end, an administration official said.

A senior American official  said Tuesday that the message was delivered to Mr. Mubarak on Monday by Frank Wisner, a respected former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, whom Mr. Obama dispatched to Cairo amid mounting anti-government protests and demands for the Egyptian leader to step down. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the ongoing diplomacy.

Mr. Wisner and Mr. Mubarak are friends and the official said the retired ambassador made clear that it was the U.S “view that his tenure as president is coming to close.”

It was Mr. Mubarak’s second speech since the biggest challenge to his nearly 30-year-rule began eight days ago. In the first, early Saturday, he named a vice-president for the first time who is widely considered his designated successor, sacked his Cabinet and promised economic and political reforms demanded by the protesters.

However, the throngs who have been protesting day after day say they will accept nothing short of Mr. Mubarak’s departure.

More than a quarter-million people flooded Cairo’s main square Tuesday in a jubilant array of young and old, urban poor and middle class professionals, mounting by far the largest protest yet in a week of unrelenting demands for Mubarak to leave.

The crowds — determined but peaceful — filled Tahrir, or Liberation, Square and spilled into nearby streets, among them people defying a government transportation shutdown to make their way from rural provinces. Protesters jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, with schoolteachers, farmers, unemployed university graduates, women in conservative headscarves and women in high heels, men in suits and working-class men in scuffed shoes.

They sang nationalist songs, danced, beat drums and chanted the anti-Mubarak slogan “Leave! Leave! Leave!” as military helicopters buzzed overhead. Organizers said the aim was to intensify marches to get the president out of power by Friday, and similar demonstrations erupted in at least five other cities around Egypt.

Soldiers at checkpoints set up at the entrances of the square did nothing to stop the crowds from entering.

The military promised on state TV Monday night that it would not fire on protesters answering a call for a million to demonstrate, a sign that army support for Mubarak may be unraveling as momentum builds for an extraordinary eruption of discontent and demands for democracy in the United States‘ most important Arab ally.

“This is the end for him. It’s time,” said Musab Galal, a 23-year-old unemployed university graduate who came by minibus with his friends from the Nile Delta city of Menoufiya, 40 miles north of Cairo.

Mr. Mubarak, 82, would be the second Arab leader pushed from office by a popular uprising in the history of the modern Middle East, following the ouster last month of the president of Tunisia — another North African nation.

The U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Margaret Scobey, spoke by telephone Tuesday with Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the most prominent leaders of the opposition, the embassy said. The pro-democracy advocate has taken a key role with other opposition groups in formulating the movement’s demands for Mr. Mubarak to step down and allow a transitional government paving the way for free elections. There was no immediate word on what they discussed.