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Mubarak falls as a million Egyptians march

11 lutego, 2011

Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was forced to cede power Friday to a junta of senior military commanders after more than a million demonstrators took to the streets, culminating an 18-day uprising in the Arab world\'s most populous country.

News of the regime\'s collapse whipped rapidly across Cairo, sparking an eruption of joy and joyous chants of "We the people have overthrown the regime!"

A grim-faced and ashen Vice President Omar Suleiman announced the handover on state television after an extraordinary national outpouring of rage brought vast crowds into the streets across the country.

"President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state\'s affairs," Suleiman said.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama said the people of Egypt had spoken after history moved at a "blinding pace."

The new man in the strongman\'s shoes is Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, chairman of the military council and a 75-year-old veteran who has always been considered a close Mubarak ally.

The statement appeared to bring an end to constitutional rule in Egypt and invest power in a group of generals representing a military that has long been the power behind the throne in the country.

Earlier, 82-year-old Mubarak flew from Cairo to his Red Sea holiday retreat at Sharm el-Sheikh, his ruling party said.

As news spread, cries of "Allahu Akbar" -- God is greatest! -- and howls of victory rang out across the capital, firecrackers exploded, dancing broke out and women ululated their joy.

"The people of Egypt have spoken -- their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same," Obama said.

"By stepping down, president Mubarak responded to the Egyptian peoples\' hunger for change," he said. "Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day."

Egypt\'s powerful Islamist opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood hailed Mubarak\'s resignation and thanked the army.

"We salute the great people of Egypt in their battle," Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader and spokesman, told AFP. "We salute the army, which kept its promises."

In Tahrir Square several protesters fainted with the emotion of the moment following two weeks of protest.

"Now the Egyptians have their freedom," said Mohammed Gamal, a 21-year-old Cairo University student, one of a new generation of web-savvy young people behind the revolt.

"We broke down the wall of fear. We changed our people," he said.

The plaza has become a focal point of the revolt since it was occupied by protesters in late January. Earlier Friday it was thronged by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who prayed and chanted abuse at Mubarak.

Outside the main presidential palace in the Heliopolis neighbourhood, protesters shouted "God is greatest!" as they hugged one another, danced and ululated. Some collapsed, overcome with emotion.

Tantawi later drove past the palace and saluted cheering crowds.

"My message to the Egyptian people is that you have gained your liberty," top opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television. "Let\'s make the best use of it and God bless you."

Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who last week joined the crowds in Tahrir Square, hailed his fellow Egyptians and the army for their "historic achievement."

Elsewhere in Cairo, gunshots, fireworks and the rhythmic car horns usually reserved for weddings were heard as Egyptians celebrated Mubarak\'s resignation.

On Thursday night, hundreds of thousands had crowded into Tahrir Square to hear a speech widely expected to be Mubarak\'s last as president.

Instead, he delegated some of his powers to his ally and Egypt\'s former intelligence supremo, Omar Suleiman, while vowing to stay in office until September and one day die in Egypt, spurning any flight into exile.

Israel, fearful the uprising might open the door to a hostile Islamist regime in Cairo, said it hoped the transition of power in Egypt would happen "smoothly," a government official told AFP.

The official stressed the need to preserve the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, signed two years before Mubarak came to power.

The White House also called on the new authorities in Egypt to honour existing peace agreements with Israel.

Hamas hailed Mubarak\'s resignation as "the start of the victory of the Egyptian revolution" as thousands of Palestinians celebrated in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Lebanon\'s Hezbollah congratulated Egyptians on their "historic victory", as gunfire and fireworks lit up the night skies over Beirut.