Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Thursday he has passed authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman, but will not step down before September elections.
The move, announced in a nationally-televised address, means he will retain his title of president and ensures the regime will continue to control the reform process.
Immediately after his speech, Suleiman addressed the nation and urged protesters to return to their homes.
"To the youth of Egypt, and the heroes of Egypt, go back to your home and your works, the nation needs you so that we can build and develop and innovate," said Suleiman.
"Let us walk together, hand in hand, in a new path that achieves the hope of the youth and all generations for a new life, a stable life, and a safe life," he added.
Mubarak's announcement was not what hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square had hoped for, as they resumed their chants of "Leave! Leave! Leave!"
"I will never leave Egypt and Egypt will not leave me until I am buried in the soil of Egypt," Mubarak said in his 15-minute address.
Mubarak said the demands of the protesters calling for his immediate ouster are legitimate. He said he had requested the amendment of five articles of the constitution to loosen the now restrictive conditions on who can run for president, to restore judicial supervision of elections, and to impose term limits on the presidency. He also said that he would lift hated emergency laws -- but only when security permitted.
Mubarak also vowed to punish those behind violence over the past two weeks and offered condolences to the families of those killed.
President Obama said earlier Thursday at a new wireless initiative event in Michigan that "we are witnessing history unfold."
"The people of Egypt are calling for a change," Obama said.
The president also said the U.S. will do anything it can to support a smooth transition of power in Egypt.
"We want all Egyptians to know America will continue to do every thing that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt," he said.
The speech came after protests Thursday increasingly spiraled out of the control of efforts led by Suleiman to contain the crisis. Labor strikes erupted around the country in the past two days, showing that the Tahrir protests had tapped into the deep well of anger over economic woes, including inflation, unemployment, corruption, low wages and wide disparities between rich and poor.
Hundreds of lawyers in black robes broke through a police cordon Thursday and marched on one of Mubarak's palaces -- a first for the protesters. The president was not in Abdeen Palace, several blocks from Tahrir. The lawyers pushed through a line of police, who did nothing to stop them.
Tens of thousands were massed in Tahrir Square itself, joined in the morning by striking doctors who marched in their white lab coats from a state hospital to the square and lawyers who broke with their pro-government union to join in.
"Now we're united in one goal. The sun of the people has risen and it will not set again," one of the lawyers, Said Bakri, said before the series of military announcements.
Suleiman has led the regime's management of the crisis since he was named to the vice president post soon after protests erupted on Jan. 25. With his efforts failing to bring an end to protests, he and his foreign minister both warned of the possibility of a coup and imposition of martial law if the protesters do not agree to a government-directed framework of negotiations for reforms. The protesters demanded Mubarak step down first.
Youth activists organizing the protests planned to up the pressure on the streets even further, calling for an expanded rally on Friday, hoping to repeat a showing earlier this week that drew about a quarter-million people. Friday's protest was to be expanded, with six separate rallies planned around Cairo, all to eventually march on Tahrir, said Khaled Abdel-Hamid, speaking for a coalition of groups behind the protests.
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