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Egypt Military Supports Mubarak; Protesters Mass

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CAIRO - Egypt's military threw its weight Friday behind President Hosni Mubarak's plan to stay in office through September elections while protesters fanned out to the presidential palace in Cairo and other key symbols of the authoritarian regime in a new push to force the leader to step down immediately.

Meanwhile, Mubarak's whereabouts were unknown. Widespread reports indicate that he has left Cairo (more below). Al Arabiya retracted an earlier report that the president had left the country.

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The statement by the Armed Forces Supreme Council -- its second in two days -- was a blow to many protesters who had called on the military to take action to push out Mubarak after his latest refusal to step down.

But soldiers also took no action to stop demonstrators from massing outside the palace and the headquarters of state television, indicating they were trying to avoid another outbreak of violence.

Anti-government protesters said they were more determined than ever as the uprising entered its 18th day.

"We expected the army's decision, we always knew that it was behind Mubarak. But we know it's not going to harm us," Safi Massoud said as she joined thousands of people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square. "We wont leave until we choose a transition president. We don't want Mubarak, we don't want Suleiman."

The military statement endorsed Mubarak's plan to transfer some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman and promised free and fair presidential elections later this year.

It also promised that the hated emergency laws, in force since Egypt's authoritarian ruler came to office in 1981, would be lifted and gave a somewhat more specific timeframe than Mubarak had offered in his Thursday night speech.

The military implied they would be lifted when protests end, saying it could happen "when the current security situation permits."

It also called for public services to resume and urged "the return of normal life in order to safeguard the achievements of our glorious people."

Undaunted, thousands packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, which has been the center of the uprising since it began on Jan. 25.

A few hundred protesters assembled outside the gate of Mubarak's Oruba Palace. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of barbed wire, but soldiers were doing nothing to stop demonstrators from joining the rally and chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.

Others massed outside the Cabinet, parliament and the state television headquarters several blocks away from Tahrir Square, the center of the mass rallies that began on Jan. 25.

Hundreds of demonstrators formed a human barricade around the building that houses state TV and radio, checking IDs and turning away those who work there. Tanks and barbed wire surrounded the building overlooking the Nile, but troops did not keep protesters away.

Hopes that Mubarak would resign had been raised Thursday when a council of the military's top generals announced it had stepped in to secure the country, and a senior commander told protesters in Tahrir Square that all their demands would soon be met.

Instead, several hundred thousand people watched in disbelief and anger as Mubarak refused to step down.

Mubarak called the protesters' demands legitimate and promised that September presidential elections -- in which he says he will not run -- will be "free and fair" with supervision to ensure transparency.

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Ahram Online reports:

A spiritual leader of Somalia's Islamist Shebab rebels called for popular Egypt- and Tunisia-style revolts to topple the government.

Sheikh Jama Abdusalam said such uprisings would rid the war-wracked country of a government that he accused of serving Western interests.

"I am urging the people to carry out Egyptian- and Tunisian-style uprisings in Somalia," Abdusalam told Alfurqaan Radio, a Shebab mouthpiece.

Read more here.

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@ AlArabiya_Eng : Clinton to Alarabiya: I say to egyptians: don't let anyone hijack the process #alarabiya #Iran #Egypt #clinton

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Egypt's military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests Monday as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and transport workers, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak's regime.

The statement by the ruling military council that took power from Mubarak appeared to be a final warning to protest organizers in labor and professional unions before the army intervenes and imposes an outright ban on gatherings, strikes and sit-ins.

Soldiers cleared out almost all the remaining demonstrators from Cairo's Tahrir Square, the giant traffic circle that was turned into a protest camp headquarters for the 18-day revolt. During more than two weeks of round-the-clock demonstrations at the square, protesters set up tents, brought in blankets, operated medical clinics and festooned the entire plaza with giant banners demanding removal of the regime.

Read more here.

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Al Jazerra's Evan Hill filed a new set of photos from Cairo, documenting the return to some semblance of normality, following the political unrest of recent weeks.

More from Al Jazerra here.

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The Guardian reports:

There are rumours – and let us stress, just rumours at this point – of more deaths in Bahrain following today's protests.

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@ felix85 : France says Egypt asks it to freeze possible assets of ex-officials, adding to UK and Germany already today

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Wael Ghonim, a regional marketing manager for Google in the Middle East tells 60 Minutes about the support that the company provided when he was detained for his role in the protests.

There is more video from Ghonim's interview with 60 Minutes here.

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Hundreds of Egyptian police have been protesting outside the country's Interior Ministry. They are demanding better wages and seeking to disassociate themselves from the deaths of protesters in the run up to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak from the Presidency.

Watch Al Jazerra's coverage of the protests:

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Ahram Online reports:

A crowd of about 3,000 protesters, mainly lawyers and students, tried to march from Sanaa University to Al-Tahrir square in the city centre, where [Yemen President] Saleh's supporters have been camped since last week, but were prevented by security forces who erected barbed wire, witnesses reported.

In a move to manage the situation President Saleh halted constitutional procedures which may have allowed him to assume the presidency for life, and possibly pave the way for his son, the chief of the Republican Guard, to succeed him.

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The Guardian reports:

A major development in Bahrain where there are reports that one person has been killed by security forces during a protest:

According to sources in the hospital, and confirmed by Nabeel Rajab from a Bahraini human rights organisation, Ali Abdulhadi al-Mushaima, 27, was shot in the back with live ammunition. Protesters are incensed.

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@ thelede : Live Update: Dozens of Iran Protest Clips on YouTube http://nyti.ms/dG1C5M #Egypt #Bahrain #Iran

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The New York Times reports:

Two generals sat down Sunday night to talk about their country’s future with seven of the revolution’s young organizers — including the Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim — and the young activists posted their notes on the meeting directly to the Internet for the Egyptian public to see.

“We all sensed a sincere desire to preserve the gains of the revolution and unprecedented respect for the right of young people to express their views,” two of the young organizers, Mr. Ghonim and Amr Salama, wrote in their Facebook posting, with the disclaimer that they were speaking only for themselves. They noted that the generals spoke without any of the usual “parental tone (you do not know what is good for you, son),” and called the encounter “the first time an Egyptian official sat down to listen more than speak.”

Read more here.

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@ AJEnglish : Clashes reported in Iran protests: Pro-reformist marches under way in Tehran despite a heavy security presence a... http://aje.me/fqbkTi

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Ahram Online reports:

According to activist Ahmed Nassar, Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, stated that he will be devoting his time in the coming months to his presidential campaign as soon as he hands over his Arab League post in March.

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@ richardengelnbc : #egypt.. some APCs moved out of downtown.. feeling cairo is slowly being 'demilitarized,' although military in control

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@ BBCWorld : US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hails 'courage' and 'aspirations' of anti-government protesters in #Iran, from AFP

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Videos have been surfacing today showing protesters burning images of government leaders in Iran. This video shows a man, alleged to be a plain-clothes policeman, attempting to stop protesters from burning such an image, resulting in a violent skirmish.

Warning - contains violent images.

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BBC News reports:

Unrest in Yemen turned ugly as protesters clashed with police and government loyalists in Sanaa on the fourth consecutive day of rallies.

Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh came up against a smaller crowd backing the veteran leader.

The protesters could be heard chanting "After Mubarak, Ali", in reference to the recent dramatic events in Egypt.

Police fired tear gas and stones were thrown, with reports of injuries.

Read more here.

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Reuters reports:

Dozens of Iranian opposition supporters were arrested on Monday while taking part in a banned rally in Tehran to support popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, an Iranian opposition website said.

"Witnesses say in some parts of Tehran security forces arrested dozens of protesters," opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi's Kaleme website reported.

Read more here.

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