WRAPUP 10-Egyptians stage big protest, dismiss power plan
Demonstrators fill entire Tahrir Square
* Egyptians moved by Google executive's tearful testimony
* Protesters accuse Mubarak of playing for time
(Adds Biden comment)
By Marwa Awad and Andrew Hammond
CAIRO, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Egyptians staged one of their biggest protests
yet on Tuesday demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down now, their
wrath undiminished by the vice president's announcement of a plan to
Protesters, many moved by a Google executive's tearful account of his
detention by security forces, poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square to pack
a space that can hold a quarter of a million people.
While the government refuses to budge on the demonstrators' main
demands, Vice President Omar Suleiman promised there would be no
reprisals against the protesters for their three-week-old campaign to
eject Mubarak, 82, after 30 years in office.
But they dismissed his promises, accusing the government of playing for
time, and swore they would not give up until the current "half
revolution" was complete.
By bringing at least as many people onto the streets as the last big
demonstration last Friday, the protesters showed their movement has not
lost momentum. The next big test will be whether as many people can be
mobilised on Friday.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also added pressure, pressing Suleiman
for an orderly transition of power that is "prompt, meaningful,
peaceful and legitimate", the White House said, and calling for the
immediate lifting of Egypt's emergency law.
Freed Google (GOOG.O) executive Wael Ghonim addressed the cheering crowd.
"You are the heroes. I am not a hero, you are the heroes," said Ghonim,
who broke down as he described being blindfolded during 12 days of
Ghonim has for now at least been thrust to the forefront of a protest
movement that has yet to produce a leader. Activists say Ghonim was
behind a Facebook group that helped to inspire the wave of protests.
His interview also appears to have persuaded many Egyptians to side
with the demonstrations.
"Ghonim's tears have moved millions and turned around the views of
those who supported (Mubarak) staying," website Masrawy.com wrote two
hours after the interview. In that short span, 70,000 people signed up
to Facebook pages supporting him.
Later Ghonim expressed his sorrow for the victims of the violence that has claimed an estimated 300 lives.
"I saw young people dying and now the president has a responsibility to see what the people demand," he told Reuters.
Google had launched a service to help Egyptians circumvent government
restrictions on using the social network Twitter, enabling them to dial
a telephone number and leave a voice mail that would then be sent on
the online service.
The state news agency said 34 political prisoners had been released,
the first to be set free since Mubarak promised reforms to quell the
The White House called on Egypt to release all arrested protesters and journalists immediately.
"The government has got to stop arresting protesters and journalists,
harassment, beatings, detentions of reporters, of activists, of those
involved in civil society," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at
a daily news briefing.
Meanwhile, comments by Suleiman who said Egypt was not ready for democracy were "unhelpful", Gibbs said.
Protesters completely filled Tahrir Square for the third time since the demonstrations began on Jan. 25.
"I came here for the first time today because this cabinet is a
failure, Mubarak is still meeting the same ugly faces," said Afaf
Naged, 71, a former member of the board of directors of the state-owned
National Bank of Egypt. "He can't believe it is over. He is a very
stubborn man," she said.
Suleiman, a long-time intelligence chief, led talks this week with
opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood -- Mubarak's sworn
In comments broadcast on state television, he said: "A clear road map
has been put in place with a set timetable to realise the peaceful and
organised transfer of power."
So far the government has conceded little ground in talks and Mubarak
has promised only to stand down when his term expires in September.
Many in a country where about 40 percent of people live on less than $2
a day are desperate to return to work and normal life, even some of
those wanting to oust Mubarak.
But some telecoms and steel workers were emboldened by the demonstrations and went on strike to demand better wages.
"HALF A REVOLUTION"
People on Tahrir Square were sceptical about the talks and suspicious
of Mubarak's motives. Youssef Hussein, a 52-year-old tourist driver
from Aswan, held up a sign saying: "Dialogue prolongs the life of the
regime and gives it the kiss of life. No dialogue until Mubarak leaves."
"This dialogue is just on paper, it is just political manoeuvring to gain time," said Sayed Hagaz from the Nile Delta.
Ayman Farag, a Cairo lawyer, said the protesters' work was far from
complete. "What has happened so far is only half a revolution and I
hope it will continue to the end," he said.
Suleiman promised the harassment of protesters would end.
"The president emphasised that Egypt's youth deserve the appreciation
of the nation and issued a directive to prevent them being pursued,
harassed or having their right to freedom of expression taken away," he
Tuesday's rally and another called for Friday are tests of the protesters' ability to maintain pressure on Mubarak.
Opposition figures have reported little progress in the talks with the
government. The official news agency said Mubarak issued a decree
ordering the establishment of a committee to study and propose legal
and constitutional amendments.
The Muslim Brotherhood, by far the best-organised opposition group,
said on Monday it could quit negotiations if protesters' demands were
not met, including the immediate exit of Mubarak. (Additional reporting
by Samia Nakhoul, Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Andrew Hammond, Alexander
Dziadosz, Yasmine Saleh, Sherine El Madany, and Alison Williams in
Cairo; Phil Stewart and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by David
Stamp and Jon Hemming; Editing by Ralph Boulton)