Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak said on in a televised address on Tuesday he would not run for the presidency again and would work in the last months of his term to allow the transfer of power.
Looking calm in suit and tie, he said: "I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation, that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I've spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.
"I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safekeeping and banner ... preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution ... I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure peaceful transfer of power."
Mubarak said he would seek changes to the constitution in a speech to the nation he said he was giving at a "difficult time".
He called on "parliament to discuss amendments to Articles 76 and 77 of the constitution to change the conditions for presidential candidacy and limit terms."
He said the main priority was the stability of the nation to allow the transfer of power, adding that the country faces a choice between chaos and stability and that some people have manipulated the protests that have gripped the nation for political gains.
The next presidential election is scheduled for September. Until now, officials had indicated Mubarak, 82, would likely run for a sixth six-year term of office.
Mubarak also said he has no intentions of leaving Egypt, “this is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil," he said.
It was Mubarak's second speech since the biggest challenge to his nearly 30-year-rule began eight days ago. In the first, early Saturday, he named a vice-president for the first time who is widely considered his designated successor, sacked his Cabinet and promised economic and political reforms demanded by the protesters
Al Arabiya TV reported earlier that newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman had started meetings with representatives of parties.
It said Suleiman's office had been in contact with groups of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir square, the focal point for the demonstrations
I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safekeeping and banner ... preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution ... I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure peaceful transfer of power
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
A million people
A million people, maybe more, rallied across Egypt on Tuesday, clamoring for Mubarak to give up power and piling pressure on a leader who has towered over Middle East politics for 30 years to make way.
The 82-year-old former general was reported to have heard a similar message from U.S. President Barack Obama, until now a staunch supporter of a military-backed administration that has been an Arab ally against radical Islam and a friend to Israel.
A U.S. official said Washington's special envoy told Mubarak in person that Obama believed he should prepare for an "orderly transition". The New York Times quoted U.S. diplomats as saying that Obama urged the Egyptian leader specifically not seek a sixth term in office at an election due in September.
Tahrir (Liberation) Square was jammed with people ranging from lawyers and doctors to students and jobless poor, the crowd spilling into surrounding streets.
"He goes, we are not going," chanted a crowd of men, women and children as a military helicopter hovered over the sea of people in the square, many waving Egyptian flags and banners.
Crowds also demonstrated in Alexandria, Suez and in the Nile Delta in the eighth and biggest day of protests by people fed up with years of repression, corruption and economic hardship.
With the army refusing to take action against the people and support from long-time backer the United States fading, the ageing strongman's days seemed numbered.
Egypt's opposition, embracing the banned Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, Christians, intellectuals and others, began to coalesce around the figure of Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate for his work as head of the U.N. nuclear agency.
Opposition groups said there could be no negotiations with the regime until Mubarak leaves and ElBaradei said Friday had been set as "departure day" for the veteran president.
"There can be dialogue but it has to come after the demands of the people are met and the first of those is that President Mubarak leaves," ElBaradei told Al Arabiya television.
Gauging the numbers of protesters was difficult. Reuters estimated it hit the million mark that activists had called for. "Mubarak wake up, today is the last day," some shouted.
There can be dialogue but it has to come after the demands of the people are met and the first of those is that President Mubarak leaves
Army hands over street
Mubarak's grip looked ever more tenuous after the army pledged on Monday night not to confront protesters, effectively handing over the streets to them.
The army, a powerful and respected force in Egypt, said troops would not open fire on protesters and that they had legitimate grievances and a right to peaceful protest.
Soldiers in Tahrir Square erected barbed wire barricades but made no attempt to interfere with people. Tanks daubed with anti-Mubarak graffiti stood by.
Barbed wire barricades also ringed the presidential palace, where Mubarak is believed to be hunkered down.
Effigies of Mubarak were hung from traffic lights. The crowds included men, women and children from all walks of life, showing the breadth of opposition to Mubarak.
US sends envoy
Analysts said a transition was already under way but the military brass would want to grant Mubarak a graceful exit.
"It is possible that people might accept an interim military leader for a short period of time -- although not Suleiman. But not for as long as six months," Maha Azzam, a Middle East expert at Chatham House thinktank in London.
The United States and other Western allies were caught out by the uprising of a stalwart ally who has been a key figure in Middle East peace moves for decades. Washington called for reforms and free elections but is also concerned that Islamists could gain a slice of power should Mubarak be forced out.
The prospect of a hostile neighbor on Israel's western border also worries Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But pressure on Mubarak also came from elsewhere.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Mubarak should listen to the people's demands. The solution to political problems lay in the ballot box, he said.
Popular demands for more democracy could sweep across the Arab world.
"What is happening in Egypt is really lighting a fire across the whole region," said Chatham House's Azzam. "The problem is that the West has relied on these authoritarian regimes for too long. There is a lot of anger and now it is spilling over."
Protesters were inspired in part by a revolt in Tunisia which toppled its president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14. But years of repression have left few obvious civilian leaders able to fill any gap left by Mubarak's departure.
It is possible that people might accept an interim military leader for a short period of time -- although not Suleiman. But not for as long as six months
The military’s role
The military, which has run Egypt since it toppled King Farouk in 1952, will be the key player in deciding who replaces him. Analysts expect it to retain significant power while introducing enough reforms to defuse the protests.
Armed forces chief of staff Sami Enan could be an acceptable leader, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood said.
Enan, who has good ties with Washington, was a liberal who could be seen as suitable by the nascent opposition coalition, prominent overseas cleric Kamel El-Helbawy told Reuters.
The hitherto banned Brotherhood stayed in the background early in the uprising but is now raising its profile. Analysts say it could do well in any election.
The angry eight-day revolt -- in which an estimated 300 people have died and more than 3,000 been injured -- has sent jitters throughout the Middle East.
King Abdullah II of Jordan sacked his government after weeks of demands for change, Yemen's president summoned parliament ahead of a "day of rage" called for Thursday, and a Facebook group of Syrian youth called for a peaceful revolution to start on Friday.
The price of oil, the most sensitive indicator of market unease about the Middle East, rose. Brent crude passed $102 a barrel on word of disruption at Egyptian ports and new concerns about stability in Jordan.