1.5 MILLION IN TAHRIR SQUARE – Mubarak’s bags being packed

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Millions of Egyptians converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and massed in the cities of Alexandria, Port Suez and Luxor yesterday, which they had dubbed ‘departure day’ for President Mubarak.

There was a heavy military presence surrounding the defiant crowd in Tahrir Square, some of whom were sporting bandaged wounds from attacks by plain-clothes police and paid pro-Mubarak thugs over the previous night and day.

Popular committees and Army personnel checked bags and identifications of those entering the square to keep out provocateurs.

A number of Army leaders came to Tahrir Square to show their support for the demonstrators.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa also visited the square to pay his tribute to the demonstrators.

200,000 demonstrated in Alexandria, where there was no sign of the military yesterday.

Egypt’s Defence Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, regarded by Washington as a key plank of any post-Mubarak administration, visited the square to appeal to demonstrators to give up their protest.

‘The man (Mubarak) told you he won’t stand again,’ Tantawi told the protesters flanked by troops, who urged the crowd to be seated.

Tantawi called on the opposition Muslim Brotherhood to join a dialogue with the regime.

Referring to the group’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, the Defence Minister said: ‘Tell the guide to go sit down with them.’

But Badie told Al-Jazeera television that the Brotherhood stood ready to enter talks, but only after Mubarak had gone.

He said: ‘We stand with all the political forces supporting dialogue with whoever wants to implement reforms in the country after the departure of this unjust, corrupt tyrant.

‘We have a single demand. Once it is met, we will engage in dialogue.’

As the crowds swelled, reports emerged that US and Egyptian officials were discussing a plan in which Mubarak would step down immediately.

Meanwhile, leading Egyptian dissident Mohamed El Baradei said the president ‘should hear the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity’.

He told reporters yesterday there should be a year-long transition to democracy under a temporary constitution with a presidential council of several people, including a military representative.

Former Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer yesterday defended Mubarak, saying his collapse will be a ‘tremendous loss’ for Israel.

The former army general praised Mubarak for supporting Israel for 30 years, saying: ‘When I watched his speech in which he said he would step down, it pained me to see his collapse.’

Ben-Eliezer warned that ‘the Americans still don’t realise the extent of the catastrophe into which they have pushed the Middle East.’