- Associated Press - Friday, February 4, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — Tens of thousands packed central Cairo Friday, waving flags and singing the national anthem, emboldened in their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak after they repelled pro-regime attackers in two days of bloody street fights. The U.S. was pressing Egypt for a swift move toward greater democracy, including a proposal for Mr. Mubarak to step down immediately.

Thousands, including families with children, flowed over bridges across the Nile into Tahrir Square, showing they were not intimidated after Mubarak supporters hurled concrete, metal and firebombs at them and fighters on horses and camels trampled them in fighting that began Wednesday afternoon and lasted until Thursday night. The death toll for the two days rose to 11.

In the wake of the violence, more detailed scenarios were beginning to emerge for a transition to democratic rule after Mr. Mubarak’s nearly 30-year authoritarian reign. The Obama administration said it was discussing several possibilities with Cairo — including one for Mr. Mubarak to leave office now and hand over power to a military-backed transitional government.

Protesters in the square held up signs reading “Now!” in a rally that drew around 100,000 — the largest gathering since the quarter-million who turned out on Tuesday. They labeled the demonstration the “Friday of departure,” in hopes it would be the day that Mr. Mubarak goes.

Thousands prostrated themselves during noon prayers, and after uttering the prayer’s concluding words “God’s peace and blessings be upon you” they began chanting their message to Mubarak: “Leave! Leave! Leave!” A man sitting in a wheelchair was lifted — wheelchair and all — over the heads of the crowd and he pumped his arms in the air.

Those joining in passed through a series of beefed-up checkpoints by the military and the protesters themselves guarding the square. In the afternoon, a group of Mubarak supporters gathered in a square several blocks away and tried to move on Tahrir, banging with sticks on metal fences to raise an intimidating clamor. But protesters throwing rocks pushed them back.

The Arabic news network Al Jazeera said a “gang of thugs” stormed its offices in continuation of attacks on journalists by regime supporters that erupted Thursday. It said the attackers burned the office and damaged equipment.

The editor of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood’s website, Abdel-Galil el-Sharnoubi, told the AP that policemen stormed its office Friday morning and arrested 10 to 15 of its journalists. Also clashes with sticks and fists between pro- and anti-government demonstrators erupted in two towns in southern Egypt.

Various proposals for a post-Mubarak transition floated by the Americans, the regime and the protesters share some common ground, but with one elephant-sized difference: The protesters say nothing can be done before Mubarak leaves.

The 82-year-old president insists he will serve out the remaining seven months of his term to ensure a stable process.

“You don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now,” Mr. Mubarak said he told President Obama. He warned in an interview with ABC News that chaos would ensue.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration was in talks with top Egyptian officials about the possibility of Mr. Mubarak immediately resigning and handing over a military-backed transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman.

It would prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year, according to U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the continuing sensitive talks. The officials stressed that the United States isn’t seeking to impose a solution on Egypt but said the administration had made a judgment that Mr. Mubarak has to go soon if there is to be a peaceful resolution.

Mr. Suleiman has offered negotiations with all political forces, including the protest leaders and regime’s top foe — the Muslim Brotherhood. On the agenda are constitutional changes needed to ensure a free vote ahead of September presidential elections to replace Mr. Mubarak, who since protests began has publicly committed for the first time that he would not seek re-election.

The amendments would include provisions to ensure independent supervision of elections, a loosening of now-suffocating restrictions on who can run for president and term limits for the president.

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