Mubarak to Talk With Opposition as 250,000 Protesters Gather in Cairo

Egypt president instructs new PM to start talks with opposition parties about their demands; army officers promise not to hurt protesters in Tuesday's massive demonstration.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has instructed his government to begin talks with the opposition parties who support the mass anti-government protests across the country, the pan-Arab satellite network Al-Arabiya reported on Monday.

Mubarak told his new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to start talking to the opposition and find out their specific demands.

On Monday afternoon, more than 250,000 protesters have gathered again in Cairo's Tahrir Square, as well as in main centers in other Egyptian cities.

Protesters called for an indefinite general strike and said they are planning a "million man march" on Tuesday in order to mark one week since the start of the anti-government protests in the country.

Egypt protests - AFP - Jan 30, 2011

Egyptian military officers and soldiers promised Monday that they will not hurt any of the protesters in Tuesday's "million man march".

An officer in Egypt's Signal Corps, who identified as Major Ahmed, said he was responsible for the deployment of troops in Cairo's center and that the army will not touch the Egyptian people.

"We are with the people, and they love us. We will never hurt the people," he said. When asked what orders the military received from the government, he said: "We don't know what is going on with the government."

Egyptian protesters were camped out in central Cairo on Monday and vowed to stay until they had toppled President Hosni Mubarak, whose fate appeared to hang on the military as pressure mounted from the street and abroad.

"The army has to choose between Egypt and Mubarak," read one banner in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where demonstrators shared food with soldiers sent to restore order after violent protests shook Mubarak's 30-year rule to its core.

By dawn, some hardy demonstrators were still camped in the Square, which was covered in early morning mist. They had already begun chants of "Down, Down, Mubarak".

Six days of unrest have killed more than 100 people but the two sides have reached a stalemate. Protesters refuse to go, while the army is not moving them. The longer protesters stay unchallenged, the more untenable Mubarak's position seems.

Protesters in Tahrir Square - epicenter of the earthquake that has sent shudders through the Middle East and among global investors - have dismissed Mubarak's appointment of military men as his vice president and prime minister.

His promises of economic reform to address public anger at rising prices, unemployment and the huge gap between rich and poor have failed to halt their broader calls for a political sweep out of Mubarak and his associates.

Protesters have called for a general strike on Monday and what they bill as a "protest of the millions" march on Tuesday, to press their demands for democracy which could spell the end for the military establishment which has run post-colonial Egypt since the 1950s.

The United States, an ally which has poured billions of dollars of aid into Egypt since Mubarak came to power, stopped just short of saying openly that it wanted him out. Officials including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about "an orderly transition".

A senior U.S. administration official, who declined to be identified, said the feeling among Obama's national security aides was that Mubarak's time had passed, but it was up to Egyptians to determine what happens next.

Mubarak, a former air force chief, has turned to his military commanders, meeting them on Sunday. They seem to hold his future in their hands. Egypt's defence minister spoke by phone to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and highest-ranking U.S. military officer, praised the "professionalism" of Egypt's armed forces as its troops refrained from a crackdown on protesters. Egypt receives about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid.