egypt - AP - February 4 2011
Anti-government protestors react in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, February 4, 2011. Photo by AP
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Massive crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square staged an eleventh consecutive day of demonstrations Friday, demanding embattled President Hosni Mubarak leave immediately.

Hundreds of thousands also participated in similar "Day of Departure" protests across Egypt, gathering in Alexandria in the north-west, Al-Arish in the east, Aswan in the far south, in the port city of Suez and numerous other locations.

Meanwhile, an informal grouping of Egyptian intellectuals, dubbed locally the "wise men," proposed a gradual shifting of power away from Mubarak to vice presidents and technocrats, while allowing the ruler to keep his titular job as head of state.

The group, including billionaire Naguib Sawiris, said it had opened a line of communication with Vice President Omar Suleiman, who was responding to their proposals, but the country's prime minister doubted the idea would work.

"I doubt that this would be acceptable," Premier Ahmed Shafiq said about a managed degradation of Mubarak's powers. He urged all parties to be willing to make "concessions."

In Brussels, Mubarak received his strongest rebuke yet from the European Union, which said the president must launch the process of handing over power to a more democratic form of government at once.

"All parties should ... begin an orderly transition to a broad based government (and) this transition process must start now," EU leaders said in a joint statement.

Speaking in Munich, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that events in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere could bring about radical global changes.

"The outcome of this turmoil remains unclear, its long-term consequences unpredictable. But one thing we know: old certainties no longer hold, tectonic plates are shifting. At stake today is not just the world economy, but the world order," said Rasmussen.

In the wake of the violent pro-Mubarak demonstrations this week, and the president's own declaration he would stay until elections in September, many at Tahrir square in central Cairo, the epicentre of anti-Mubarak protests, chanted anti-Mubarak slogans, often mocking the man who has ruled them for nearly 30 years with a tight grip.

Some protesters gathered into small groups, singing songs, while others rallied in their hundreds to chant: "Leave, Don't You Understand?"

Nobel Peace laureate and opposition figure Mohammed ElBaradei said Mubarak should "step down with dignity" and listen to the demonstrators.

"The people want democracy in a new state," the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog told Arabic broadcaster al-Jazeera, pledging that "today will be peaceful, but we will not end the protest until freedom."

The protests were mostly peaceful, following two days of heavy clashes between the demonstrators and groups supporting Mubarak.

At least 5,000 people have been injured since unrest in Egypt began on January 25, said Health Minister Ahmed Farid. About 85 people were still in hospital and being treated for their injuries.

The United Nations estimated earlier this week that around 300 people were killed in the uprising, and health officials say eight people died since Wednesday.

The Egyptian army, which has refrained from directly intervening in clashes, maintained a strong presence in Tahrir, which means Liberation, with around 1,000 soldiers positioned in central Cairo.

The protesters in the square were also calling for democratic and economic reforms and an end to the draconian emergency laws which grant police wide-ranging powers.

They received moral support in the form of an appearance by Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who was briefly lifted onto the shoulders of men in the crowd. Also, a senior official at Al-Azhar University's resigned his post at the world's oldest Islamic college and joined the movement.

Meanwhile, hundreds of government supporters marked a "Day of Loyalty" for Mubarak, a day after the 82-year-old leader said he feared Egypt would be plunged into chaos if he resigned.

ElBaradei countered that the president staying on was causing chaos and paralysis across the country.

Madiha Dos, one of the Cairo protesters said: "The only way for stability in the country is for him (Mubarak) to leave." The Cairo University professor said she has attended the protests "every single day" since they began on January 25.

Shafiq, the premier who has promised an investigation into the violence, has stressed that Mubarak will not stay beyond the end of his term in September and urged dialogue between the different parts of Egyptian society.

The opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood and ElBaradei, insist they are willing to negotiate, but not until Mubarak resigns.

The country was paying a heavy price for the turmoil, according to a new analysis from Credit Agricole bank. The country was losing at least 310 million dollars a day, and the growth forecast for Egypt this year was revised downward from 5.3 per cent to 3.7 per cent.