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Egypt VP offers immediate talks with opposition

Military calls Egyptian people's demands 'legitimate'

Egypt's new Vice President Omar Suleiman said on Monday that President Hosni Mubarak had tasked him with opening "immediate" dialogue with the opposition amid raging protests against the regime.

"President Hosni Mubarak has tasked me with opening immediate talks with the political forces to begin a dialogue around all the issues concerning constitutional and legislative reforms," Suleiman said on state television.

Suleiman said steps were underway to implement decisions of the appeals court contesting results of autumn legislative elections in certain constituencies.

He also said the government would move to "deal as soon as possible with the priorities of fighting unemployment, poverty, corruption and reach the required balance between wages and prices."

Meanwhile, the powerful military said Monday the demands of the Egyptian people were "legitimate," vowing not to crush mass anti-government protests called for Tuesday.

"To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people ... have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people," it said in a statement.

Protesters massed in downtown Cairo vowed they would only be satisfied when Mubarak quits, and promised to step up their efforts to bring down his creaking regime.

Organizers announced an indefinite general strike and said Tuesday would see a "march of a million" in the capital after a week of revolt in which at least 125 people have been killed.

Another march was called in the Mediterranean port Alexandria, after national train services were cancelled in an apparent bid to stymie protests.

Tens of thousands of protesters carpeted Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of demands for an end to the corruption, deprivation and police oppression indelibly associated with Mubarak's 30-year rule.

"We will stay in the square, until the coward leaves," the crowd chanted.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak overhauled his government on Monday to try to defuse a popular uprising against his 30-year rule but angry protesters rejected the changes and said he must surrender power.

In what is seen as a sop to the protesters, a new cabinet line-up was announced in which widely hated interior minister Habib al-Adly and the previous finance and culture ministers were axed.

We will stay in the square, until the coward leaves

Protesters

Repressive tactics

Mubarak also named General Mahmoud Wagdy, previously head of Cairo criminal investigations department, as the new interior minister. Wagdy's predecessor was reviled by many Egyptians because of the repressive tactics used by the police force to quash the opposition and criticism of the president.

Mubarak, clinging to power as his legitimacy vaporizes, on Saturday named his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, a former military man, as vice president, a post vacant for 30 years. It was a move seen by some as a prelude to a transition in power.

He also appointed former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq as prime minister after sacking the entire cabinet.

We are looking for police trouble makers. They want to come in and break our unity

A popular committee member

But it appeared the moves would do little to turn back the groundswell against the 82-year-old ruler.

The army has positioned tanks around the area and was checking identity papers but letting protesters in. Civilian popular committee members were also checking papers to make sure no plain-clothes police get in.

"We are looking for police trouble makers. They want to come in and break our unity," said a popular committee member who asked not to be named.

Eid Mohammed, one of the protesters and organizers, told AFP: "It was decided overnight that there will be a million man march on Tuesday. We have also decided to begin an open-ended general strike."

The strike was first called by workers at a factory in the canal city of Suez late on Sunday.

Train traffic stopped

Faced with the prospect of untold numbers trying to converge on the capital, authorities stopped all train traffic with immediate effect on Monday afternoon.

State-owned national carrier EgyptAir said it was cancelling all domestic and international flights from 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) to 8:00 am (0600 GMT) until further notice, coinciding with a curfew in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

Some flight times will be changed to take the curfew into account, the airline said.

Faced with the biggest protests of his presidency, an increasingly embattled Mubarak appointed his first-ever vice president and a new prime minister in a desperate attempt to hold on to power.

The new cabinet unveiled on Monday did little to placate the protesters but they welcomed the departure of Adly, whose notorious security forces have been accused of systematic human rights violations.

"We will accept no change other than Mubarak's departure," said one protester who asked not to be named.

The interior minister is responsible for all the violence, because it's the police that opened fire on demonstrators

Rifat Ressat, a protesters

Another, Rifat Ressat, said: "We want a complete change of government, with a civilian authority."

He welcomed the departure of Adly.

"The interior minister is responsible for all the violence, because it's the police that opened fire on demonstrators," said Ressat.

Adly's exit was one of the demands of protesters who have been demanding the departure of Mubarak and his regime for the past week. They have also called for an end to corruption and oppression.

Business tycoons close to the regime playing an important role in politics is seen in Egypt as a sign of corruption, while Mubarak's son and previous heir apparent Gamal is also closely linked to the political-business milieu.

Egypt ordered riot police back onto the streets nationwide two days after they virtually disappeared and the army was deployed to deal with the revolt, but few were visible.

Police were seen smiling at motorists and sticking close to each other, a stone's throw away from burned-out shells of their police vans.

Their two-day vanishing act remains unexplained officially, but it left the city prey to looters and jail-breakers, and residents formed self-defense groups to protect their patches.

Many Cairo men are exhausted, taking part in neighborhood vigilante groups protecting their homes from looters by night and protesting during the day.

The protests against Mubarak's three-decade rule have shaken Egypt and left at least 125 people dead as the veteran leader clings to power.

Evacuation of foreign nationals

Several foreign governments said they would evacuate their nationals, while the United States authorised the departure of embassy families.

Washington, a key ally of Egypt, called on Mubarak to do more to defuse the crisis, with President Barack Obama voicing support for "an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people."

Troops set up checkpoints on roads to riot-hit prisons, stopping and searching cars for prisoners on the run.

Many petrol stations are running out of fuel, motorists said, and many bank cash machines have either been looted or no longer work. Banks were shut for a third straight day on Monday.

The turmoil in Egypt is affecting the world economy, with oil prices rising to within a whisker of $100 a barrel Monday on fears that the flow of oil through the Suez Canal on its way to the West could be affected, analysts said.

And rating agency Moody's said on Monday it had downgraded Egypt's debt rating by one notch to Ba2, and changed the country's outlook to negative from stable.