Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman on Thursday told protesters and strikers to head home or back to work in his first speech after Hosni Mubarak delegated presidential powers to him.
Suleiman told "the youth of Egypt, its heroes, go home and go back to your jobs" in a televised statement shortly after Mubarak made an address formally putting his former intelligence chief in charge of government business.
"This is a critical time which requires us all to unite," Suleiman said.
Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square had already reacted with fury when Mubarak failed to announce his immediate resignation after two weeks of nationwide rallies calling for his ouster, and few appeared to be paying attention to Suleiman's address, according to an AFP correspondent.
Suleiman nevertheless pledged to implement reforms.
"Change has begun... The door is still open for more dialogue," he said.
"The president has assigned me with the responsibility to the national duty of protecting the stability and the safety of the country, to protect its properties and to bring back peace of mind to all Egyptians and to return normalcy to the country."
"I call on everyone to participate in helping achieving this and I have no doubt that the Egyptian people are capable of protecting their interests."
"I am committed to do all it takes to ensure a peaceful transition of power based on constitutional provisions.
"The time has come to start work. We will all work as one team," he said.
"I call on all citizens to look to the future, to make this future promising and full of freedom."
"Do not listen to the stations and the satellites that have no goal other than sedition and to weaken Egypt's image and its image," he advised.
Suleiman reiterated his message against anyone with "foreign agendas," who he has previously said were to blame for deadly clashes last week.
"I will not allow those who have foreign agendas to be among us," he said.
Hopes had run high that Mubarak would step down immediately after the military leadership had announced hours earlier that it would move to ensure the country's security and see that the people's "legitimate" demands were met.
But by the end of his speech the 82-year-old Mubarak remained president.
Suleiman was Egypt's intelligence chief before he came out of the shadows to be named President Hosni Mubarak's first-ever deputy.
More at home in a tailored suit than a military uniform, Suleiman -- always impeccably dressed and sporting a groomed moustache -- is regarded as a Mubarak loyalist.
He is also a discreet negotiator who favors working behind the scenes -- a talent that will be put to the test as he tackles the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising and the many challenges facing the Arab world's most populous nation.
Suleiman, 77, who received military training in the former Soviet Union, was for years a highly enigmatic figure for the world at large and in Egypt, where the all-powerful military's activities are shrouded in secrecy.
But he increasingly acquired a public face in recent years, being tipped even before the uprising as a potential successor to Mubarak, himself a former head of the air force five years Suleiman's senior.
Symbolizing the unparalleled role of the military in governing Egypt, Suleiman saluted Mubarak when, on Jan. 29, he took the oath as Egypt's first vice president since Mubarak himself had the job in 1981.
Mubarak automatically became president when his predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists in the same year.
Born in 1936 to a well-off family in the southern Egyptian town of Qena, Suleiman graduated from Cairo's military academy in 1955.
Appointed aide to Egypt's military intelligence chief in 1988, he replaced his boss a year later.
Suleiman has been a negotiating partner for the United States, Israel and the Palestinians, orchestrating a series of albeit short-lived truces between the Middle East foes over the past 10 years.
But while he may be liked and trusted abroad, many in Egypt regard Suleiman as part of Mubarak's inner circle, and as such a pillar of a corrupt regime.
When it became clear Thursday night that Mubarak wasn't stepping down and that he was instead delegating powers to his deputy, an angry crowd at Cairo's central Tahrir square tellingly chanted: "Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman!"
In 1995, Suleiman advised Mubarak to ride in an armored car during a visit to Addis Ababa that shielded him from the fire of Islamist gunmen which killed the car's driver.
During the 1990s and following the botched Ethiopian assassination attempt, Suleiman joined the efforts of the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies to crack down on Islamists, at home and abroad.
He also proceeded to target home-grown Islamist groups Gamaa Islamiya and Jihad after they carried out a attacks on foreigners that hit Egypt's vital tourism industry hard.