By Adekunle Aliyu with Agency Report
Egypt’s embattled President Hosni Mubarak abruptly stepped down as president, ending his 30-year-reign, and Egyptian armed forces will take over the leadership of the country, vice president Omar Suleiman announced today.
Crowds gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted into loud cheers, chanting “Egypt is free,” as the historic announcement was made.
“My fellow citizens. In this difficult time that the country is going through, the president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has decided to relieve himself of his position as president and the Supreme military council has taken control of the state’s affairs. May God protect us,” Suleiman said during his somber one-minute announcement on TV.
The resignation comes 18 days since the beginning of protests that have rocked the region.
The 82-year-old president left the presidential palace in Cairo earlier today as protesters kept the pressure on the government to force Mubarak out of office.
Sources told ABC News that Mubarak had gone to an estate he owns in Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on the Red Sea about 250 miles from the protests in Cairo. Mubarak told ABC News last week he may eventually retire to the resort town, but vowed never to leave Egypt.
In a sign of the regime’s collapse, Hossam Badrawi — who was appointed head of the ruling party just days ago — announced just hours ago that he will resign from his post. Badrawi was widely cited by news outlets on Thursday as saying that Mubarak would step down, reports that turned out be false.
The military earlier today announced on state television that the regime’s much hated emergency law will be lifted when the security situation allows. Egypt’s controversial emergency laws have been in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1967 and give the government far-reaching powers at the expense of judicial review and civil liberties. The army also encouraged protesters to leave the streets and return to their homes.
But demonstrators were defiant, filling Tahrir Square for an 18th day to demand Mubarak’s ouster. Thousands more marched toward the state television building, a prime new target for today’s protests.
Others converged on the presidential palace, blocking roads leading up to the president’s residence. The mood was largely peaceful and celebratory, yet determined, as soldiers and protesters cheered and waved at each other. There were no signs of pro-Mubarak demonstrators in the crowd, as had been the case earlier in the day.
The side streets around Tahrir, or Liberation, Square were packed as crowds streamed toward what has become the heart of these 18-day long anti-government demonstration. Instead of the rage felt Thursday night when Mubarak went on national television and said he would not leave office, there appeared to be a new energy and determination in the crowd.
The health ministry doubled the number of ambulances parked outside the square, and there was a mobile hospital present. But soldiers seemed relaxed, smiling at the crowds, and there was a collective commitment by protesters to keep the demonstrations non-violent.
Similar scenes played out in the port cities of Alexandria and Mansoura.