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Egypt's protesters gather for 'Friday of Departure' demonstration

Thousands of protesters barricaded themselves in a central Cairo square and chanted "Leave, leave, leave" into the night on Thursday as they prepared for an eleventh day of protest against President Hosni Mubarak's rule.
Image: An Egyptian anti-government demonstrator throws a projectile at pro-regime opponents
An anti-government demonstrator throws a projectile at pro-regime opponents during clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday.Mohammed Abed / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Thousands of protesters barricaded themselves in a central Cairo square and chanted "Leave, leave, leave" as they prepared for an eleventh day of protest against President Hosni Mubarak's rule.

As the clock turned to Friday in Egypt, the Arab news service Al-Jazeera reported a "tense calm" in Tahrir Square where anti-government protesters had gained control.

Demonstrators pitched tents and prepared to camp out ahead of the anticipated "Friday of Departure" protest.

Some slept on the ground. Others guarded the square, the epicenter of anti-Mubarak rallies that started 10 days ago, and organizers arranged people in human chains to check bags and identification cards to keep out Mubarak loyalists.

There was no sign of the fierce clashes of earlier in the day between supporters and opponents of the Egyptian leader.

"We are the innocent people. We want to live in peace," said Magdy el-Sayed, a 35-year-old English teacher.

"And now he (Mubarak) uses what? Things to spread tensions between us. But we are here forever."

At least 13 people have been killed since the clashes erupted Wednesday afternoon, the Egyptian Health Ministry said, according to Al Jazeera and the U.K.'s Guardian.

Up to 300 people may have died in the uprising, United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay said.

Apology for violence
Egypt's new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the violence in Cairo, which protesters demanding Mubarak's resignation say was instigated by his loyalists.

On state television, Shafiq called on the interior minister not to obstruct peaceful marches on Friday.

The organizers of the protest, who call themselves The Youth of the Revolution, hope to gather a million demonstrators on the streets of Cairo.

One protester, tweeting as Alaa, said that the "mood is picking up." "Harrasment from thugs all night while not really threatening but kept us on edge," he added.

Another Al-Jazeera correspondent tweeted that that the "Festive and Celebratory atmosphere that marked the days of the protest b4 Pro-mubarak peeps attacked is back in #tahrir."

However the police — feared and disliked by the protesters — appeared to have returned to the streets in some force after largely leaving security to the army.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Dan Nolan wrote on Twitter that "Dozens of police trucks in side streets around Pres Palace. Yes thats right police! Haven't seen them in a while."

Ahead of the demonstrations, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest opposition group, told Al-Jazeera that the Islamist movement has no ambitions to run for the presidency.

Mohammed al-Beltagi also said government representatives who had invited the Muslim Brotherhood to talks on political reform had indicated that the group, which is formally banned, would receive official recognition as a party.

"We are ready to negotiate after (the end of) the Mubarak regime," he said, adding that the government was "flirting" with the group.

"We have said clearly that we have no ambitions to run for the presidency, or posts in a coalition government," he said.

On Thursday, gunfire was heard around the square as protesters and groups of Mubarak supporters clashed.

Mubarak supporters fled when a tank turned its turret toward them, then regrouped nearby and resumed throwing stones.

Doctors at a makeshift clinic operating out of a nearby mosque said at least 10 people had been killed during the clashes overnight and 800 had been hurt.

The health minister earlier said more than 800 were wounded.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is reportedly discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately, The New York Times reported.

The plan would include turning over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats told the paper on Thursday.

Mubarak so far has balked at leaving now, according to the report.

White House and State Department spokesmen would not discuss details of the discussions U.S. officials are having with the Egyptians.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman on Thursday, a day after a similar conversation between Suleiman and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Officials said neither Biden nor Clinton made a specific call for Mubarak to resign immediately but pressed for measures that would ease tensions on the streets and set the stage for democratic elections.

Obama wants 'orderly' transition
Biden reiterated President Barack Obama's condemnation of the recent violence in Egypt and called for restraint by all sides, echoing Obama's support for universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association, and speech.

He urged that "credible, inclusive" talks begin right away in order for Egypt to "transition to a democratic government that addresses the aspirations of the Egyptian people."

"The president has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations," said White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor on Thursday night. "We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people."

An administration official said there is no single plan being discussed with the Egyptians.

Rather, the administration is pursuing different ideas with Egyptian figures on how to proceed quickly with a process that includes a broad range of voices and leads to free and fair elections — in essence, different ways to accomplish those goals.

Among those options is a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately — which the embattled president has refused to do — and for Mubarak to cede power to a transitional government run by Suleiman.

But the official rejected the notion that the White House was trying to impose that idea and said it was not at all clear it would happen. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

At night, the square erupted with renewed activity and protesters chanted "The people demand the fall of the regime" as Suleiman appeared on television to say Mubarak would not put himself forward for the presidency again.

Many appeared defiant ahead of Friday's protests, due to start after early afternoon prayers.

"We would all die here," a 47-year-old electrician who asked to be identified as "an Egyptian" said. "I would die so my child can live with dignity."