Embattled President Hosni Mubarak announced Tuesday that he would not run for another term in office, a concession that seemingly failed to appease many Egyptians who marched a million strong to demand that his 30-year-rule end immediately.
Mubarak said he would serve out the last months of his term, which expires in September, and "die on Egyptian soil." He promised not to seek re-election, but that did not calm public fury as clashes erupted between his opponents and supporters.
Many on the streets renewed their calls for the 82-year-old leader to quit now and make way for a transitional unity government. "We will not leave! He will leave!" some chanted in Cairo.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said he spoke with Mubarak after the speech, and the Egyptian leader "recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place."
"What is clear and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now," Obama said.
Mubarak's halfway concession in a 10-minute televised statement — an end to his rule seven months down the road — failed to disperse protesters, who insisted they would not end their week-old wave of unrest.
The speech was immediately derided by protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Watching on a giant TV, protesters booed and waved their shoes over their heads at his image in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted. One man screamed, "He doesn't want to say it, he doesn't want to say it."
Egypt state television, which largely ignored anti-government protests for the first days they erupted, reported on Wednesday that dozens of Mubarak supporters gathered in Cairo after the president's speech.
Images showed one banner reading "Yes to Mubarak." It said they were heading to Tahrir Square in central Cairo, where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanded President Hosni Mubarak leave office.
In a separate area of Cairo, a Reuters witness reported a modest pro-Mubarak march chanting: "With our souls and blood, we sacrifice to you, Mubarak."
These pro-government marches are an unusual development given that in the past eight days of protests, there has been almost no sign of any counter-demonstration in support of the president.
State television coverage of the demonstrations has flip-flopped from almost totally ignoring them in the first days, to extensive coverage since Friday's mass "Day of Wrath."
In the early hours of Wednesday, it focused on the small numbers of pro-government protesters, using tight angled shots that made it hard to judge numbers. But they seemed to number no more than hundreds.
Small scuffles broke out between protesters and people with knives and other weapons who appeared to infiltrate the crowds in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria immediately after Mubarak finished speaking, witnesses said.
They said shots were fired in the air to break up the scuffles.
Witnesses reported similar unrest in the cities of Suez, Ismialia and Port Said, all on the Suez Canal east of Cairo, but no shots were reported to be heard in those incidents.
The cause of the skirmishes was not immediately clear.
In the 10-minute address, Mubarak insisted that even if the protests had never happened, he would not have sought a sixth term in September.
He said he would serve out the rest of his term working "to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power." He said he will carry out amendments to rules on presidential elections.
Mubarak, a former air force commander, vowed not to flee the country. "This is my dear homeland ... I have lived in it, I fought for it and defended its soil, sovereignty and interests. On its soil I will die. History will judge me and all of us."
Mubarak 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, the embassy said. ElBaradei, a pro-democracy advocate and one of the opposition's most prominent leaders, has taken a key role in formulating the movement's demands. He is also a member of a new committee formed by various factions to conduct any future negotiations on the protesters' behalf once Mubarak steps down.
Speaking to NBC News' Brian Williams, ElBaradei added that the protests had created a generation of "new Egyptians."
"They have confidence, they have hope, they have dignity," he added. "They feel that they have been reborn from being slaves into human beings."
Only a month ago, reform activists would have greeted Mubarak's announcement with joy — many Egyptians believed Mubarak was going to run again despite health issues. But after the past week of upheaval, Mubarak's address struck many of his opponents as inadequate.
"The people have spoken. They said no to Mubarak, and they will not go back on their words," said Saad el-Katatni, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "Enough suffering. Let him go, and leave the Egyptians to sort themselves out."
Ayman Nour, a former presidential candidate who is a member of the negotiating committee, said Mubarak clearly didn't get the message.
"This is a unique case of stubbornness that will end in a disaster," he said. "It is only expected that he wasn't going to run because of his age... He offered nothing new."
Tuesday's protest marked a dramatic escalation that organizers said aims to drive Mubarak out by Friday, with more than 250,000 people flooding into Tahrir, or Liberation, Square.
Protesters jammed in shoulder to shoulder: farmers and unemployed university graduates, women in conservative headscarves and women in high heels, men in suits and working-class men in scuffed shoes. Many in the crowd traveled from rural provinces, defying a government transportation shutdown and roadblocks on intercity highways.
They sang nationalist songs, danced, beat drums and chanted the anti-Mubarak slogan "Leave! Leave! Leave!" as military helicopters buzzed overhead. 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, a sign that army support for Mubarak may be unraveling.
The movement to drive Mubarak out has been built on the work of online activists and fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant. After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the Tunisia unrest took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable series of protests across this nation of 80 million.
The repercussions were being felt around the Mideast, as other authoritarian governments fearing popular discontent pre-emptively tried to burnish their democratic image.
Jordan's King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the face of smaller street protests, named an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet and ordered him to launch political reforms. The Palestinian Cabinet in the West Bank said it would hold long-promised municipal elections "as soon as possible."
Egypt's protesters have rejected earlier concessions by Mubarak, including the dissolution of his government, the naming of a new one and the appointment of a vice president, Omar Suleiman, who offered a dialogue with "political forces" over constitutional and legislative reforms.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya television Tuesday, ElBaradei dismissed Suleiman's offer, saying there could be no negotiations until Mubarak leaves. In his speech, Mubarak said the offer still stands and promised to change constitutional articles that allow the president unlimited terms and limit those who can run for the office.
Egypt's state TV on Tuesday ran a statement by the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, pleading with the public to "give a chance" to his government.
The United States ordered nonessential U.S. government personnel and their families to leave Egypt. They join a wave of people rushing to flee the country — over 18,000 overwhelmed Cairo's international airport. EgyptAir staff scuffled with frantic passengers, food supplies were dwindling and some policemen even demanded substantial bribes before allowing foreigners to board their planes.
Banks, schools and the stock market in Cairo were closed for the third working day, making cash tight. Bread prices spiraled. An unprecedented shutdown of the Internet was in its fifth day.
The official death toll from the crisis stood at 97, with thousands injured, though reports from witnesses across the country indicated the actual toll was far higher.
Every protester had their own story of why they came — with a shared theme of frustration with a life pinned in by corruption, low wages, crushed opportunities and abuse by authorities. Under Mubarak, Egypt has seen a widening gap between rich and poor, with 40 percent of the population living under or just above the poverty line set by the World Bank at $2 a day.
Sahar Ahmad, a 41-year-old school teacher and mother of one, said she has taught for 22 years and still only makes about $70 a month.
"There are 120 students in my classroom. That's more than any teacher can handle," said Ahmad. "Change would mean a better education system I can teach in and one that guarantees my students a good life after school. If there is democracy in my country, then I can ask for democracy in my own home."