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Mubarak: I will not run in next presidential elections
Egyptian president claims he had never intended on running for reelection; doesn't heed protesters demands that he resign immediately; says, "I will die on Egyptian soil and history will remember me for my merits."
CAIRO — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday said he will not run for a new term in office in September elections, but rejected demands that he step down immediately and leave the country, vowing to die on Egypt's soil, in a television address Tuesday after a dramatic day in which a quarter-million protesters called on him to go.
Mubarak said he would serve out the rest of his term working to ensure a "peaceful transfer of power" and carry out amendments to rules on presidential elections.
But the half-way concession — an end to his rule months down the road — was immediately derided by protesters massed in Cairo's main downtown square.
Watching his speech on a giant TV set up in Tahrir square, protesters booed and waved their shoes over the heads in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted, and one man screamed, "He doesn't want to say it, he doesn't want to say it."
The 82-year-old Mubarak, who has ruled the country for nearly three decades, insisted that his decision not to run had nothing to do with the unprecedented protests that have shaken Egypt the past week. "I tell you in all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term."
"I will work for the final remaining months of the current term to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power," he said.
Mubarak, a former air force commander, resolutely vowed not to flee the country. "This dear nation .. is where I lived, I fought for it and defended its soil, sovereignty and interests. On its soil I will die. History will judge me like it did others."
His speech came after a visiting envoy of President Barack Obama told Mubarak that his ally the United States sees his presidency at an end. Frank Wisner, a respected former US ambassador to Egypt who is a friend of the Egyptian president, made clear to Mubarak that the US "view that his tenure as president is coming to close," according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the ongoing diplomacy.
Earlier on Tuesday the Obama administration opened talks with a possible successor to the embattled Mubarak as the US ramped up outreach to the hundreds of thousands determined to force their long-time leader out of power.
The context of the discussions with Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was not immediately public. But they were taking place as more than a quarter-million Egyptians gathered in Cairo's main square in defiance of Mubarak, which signaled the United States is strengthening its push for a peaceful transition to democracy — and looking for alternatives to its ally of three decades.
While the US envoy to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, spoke with ElBaradei, the escalating anti-government protests led the United States to order non-essential American personnel and their families to leave the country. Respected former ambassador Frank Wisner was visiting members of Mubarak's government and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had a telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
"The US Embassy in Cairo has been especially busy in the past several days with an active outreach to political and civil society," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in a message posted to Twitter. "As part of our public outreach to convey support for orderly transition in Egypt, Ambassador Scobey spoke today with Mohamed ElBaradei."
Wisner, who represented the US in Cairo from 1986 to 1991, was being counted on to provide the US government with an evaluation of the fast-changing situation. "As someone with deep experience in the region, he is meeting with Egyptian officials and providing his assessment," the State Department said.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat , gave public voice to what senior US officials have said only privately in recent days: that Mubarak should "step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure."
"It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge 'fair' elections," Kerry wrote in The New York Times. "The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation."
By midday Tuesday, the administration had yet to make any public comments on the protests or Mubarak, but renewed a travel warning for Egypt advising Americans to leave and ordering the departure of all non-essential government personnel and their families "in light of recent events." It was an indication of Washington's deepening concern about developments in Egypt and replaces a decision last week to allow workers who wanted to leave the country to do so at government expense.
The department said it would continue to evacuate private US citizens from Egypt aboard government-chartered planes.
The US evacuated more than 1,200 Americans from Cairo on such flights Monday and said it expected to fly out roughly 1,400 more in the coming days. Monday's flights ferried Americans from Cairo to Larnaca, Cyprus; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey.
On Tuesday, the US added Frankfurt, Germany as a destination and the Egyptian cities of Aswan and Luxor as departure points.
The Cairo airport is open and operating but the department warned that flights may be disrupted and that people should be prepared for lengthy waits.
Egypt's army leadership is reassuring the US that the powerful military does not intend to crack down on demonstrators, but is instead allowing protesters to "wear themselves out," according to a former US official in contact with several top Egyptian army officers. The Egyptians use a colloquial saying to describe their strategy — a boiling pot with a lid that's too tight will blow up the kitchen, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The officers expressed concern with White House statements appearing to side with the protesters, saying that stoking revolt to remove Mubarak risks creating a vacuum that the banned-but-powerful Muslim Brotherhood could fill, the official said.
While the Brotherhood claims to have closed its paramilitary wing long ago, it has fought politically to gain power. More threatening to the Mubarak regime, it has built a nationwide charity and social network that much of Egypt's poverty stricken population depends on for its survival.