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Mubarak hangs on after mass protests in Egypt

Image: Massive crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square staged an eleventh straight day of demonstrations
An Egyptian protester sits in a damaged vehicle as a protest takes place in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Friday.Felipe Trueba / EPA
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Protesters remained camped out Saturday in Tahrir Square, the hub of demonstrations in the heart of Cairo, vowing to wait President Hosni Mubarak out as Egypt's unrest entered its 12th day.

"Mubarak must go, Mubarak must go" and "Hold your ground, God is with us," someone shouted over a loudspeaker, after a brief burst of heavy gunfire early Saturday morning.

The origin of the gunfire was unclear and there were no reports of casualties. One protester said the army, which is separating pro-democracy supporters and Mubarak loyalists after violent clashes earlier this week, had fired in the air.

Television footage later showed people milling around but there was no sign of violence.

Newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman was due to meet a group of prominent figures on Saturday to examine a proposed solution under which he would assume the president's powers for an interim period, one of the group's members said.

But with some of the protesters insisting they wanted not just Mubarak but also his allies out, it was unclear that would be enough to end the crisis.

Mubarak said on Thursday Egypt faced chaos if he resigned now, though he has promised to step down in September.

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched peacefully in Cairo to demand an immediate end to Mubarak's 30-year rule, but there was no sign of the army or the president's U.S. allies forcing him out just yet.

President Barack Obama again appealed to Mubarak to begin an orderly process to relinquish power. But Obama stopped short of publicly calling for Mubarak's immediate resignation.

"My hope is he will end up making the right decision," . He commented at a brief news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper following a day of meetings.

"His term is up relatively shortly," the president noted. "The key question he should ask himself is, how does he leave a meaningful legacy behind."

that Suleiman, who was named by Mubarak as vice president in an effort to quell the unrest and possibly line up a successor, was the target of a recent assassination attempt. Suleiman wasn't hurt but two of his bodyguards were killed, according to the report.

A senior Obama administration official confirmed that the attack happened soon after Suleiman was appointed, on Jan. 29, Fox News reported.

NBC's Richard Engel said the report could not be verified. "US source says 'NO evidence of any attempt...rumor originated with media," he tweeted.

Earlier, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed to remain in office until in September, Egyptian state TV reported.

"We as civilized people must honor the president, who did a good job regardless of mistakes here and there," said Ahmed Shafiq on Egyptian state TV, which was translated by msnbc TV. "Today the Egyptian people see that the president will not step down."

Checkpoints and children
Protesters waved flags and sang the national anthem Friday, emboldened in their campaign to oust Mubarak after they repelled pro-regime attackers in two days of bloody street fights.

The government relaxed a capital curfew, which runs from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. instead of 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to media reports.

Thousands including families with children flowed over bridges across the Nile into Tahrir Square, a sign the movement was not intimidated after fending off everything thrown by Mubarak supporters — storms of hurled concrete, metal rebar and firebombs, fighters on horses and camels and automatic gunfire barrages.

The protesters passed through a series of beefed-up checkpoints by the military and the protesters themselves guarding the square.

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 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.

'Gangs of thugs'
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.

The ruling National Democratic Party, accused by protesters of being behind the gangs of thugs who attacked them, issued a call on state media for its supporters to "adhere to a truce and not enter confrontations with others." It denied it had any role in Wednesday's attack on the square. Protesters accuse the regime of orchestrating the violence by using police in civilian clothes and paid thugs.

The prime minister and the vice president have both said the government made a commitment not to chase the protesters out of the square.

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.

'You don't understand'
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," Mubarak said he told President Barack Obama. He warned in an interview with ABC News that chaos would ensue.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the protest movement, laid out his scenario on Friday: a transitional government headed by a presidential council of two or three figures, including a military representative.

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 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.

ElBaradei said he respects Suleiman as someone to negotiate with over the transition, but did not address whether he should have any presidential role.