584-cairo-square-balcony-vi

An Egyptian man looks out over Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. The Egyptian military guarded thousands of protesters who poured into Cairo's main square in the 11th day of their bid to drive President Hosni Mubarak from power. ((Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press))

Tens of thousands of demonstrators urged longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down during a massive "day of departure" rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Large crowds of men, women and children filled the square Friday for the 11th day of anti-government demonstrations, which continued into the night.

Under heavy military watch, the protesters waved Egyptian flags, sang and chanted their message to Mubarak: "Leave! Leave! Leave!"

At a joint news conference in Washington Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper both urged a peaceful transition in Egypt.

Obama said he has spoken twice by phone to Mubarak since the crisis started and his government continues to monitor the situation closely.

"The future of Egypt will be determined by its people. It's also clear that there needs to be a transition process that begins now. That transition must initiate a process that respects the universal rights of the Egyptian people and leads to free and fair elections."

The details of this transition, which is already underway, will be worked out by the Egyptian people, added Harper.

Mubarak, who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years, has said he will not run in the September presidential election, but protesters are pushing for rapid change.

Soldiers checked identification and performed body searches at the entrances as crowds of people flowed into the square.

CBC's Nahlah Ayed said some of the protesters were also checking bags and identifications.

"Both the protesters and the army are taking an active interest in keeping things secure here," Ayed said.

The rally was largely peaceful, and Ayed said there was an atmosphere of "excited tension" in the crowded square.

Mostafa Hussein, a doctor who spent the last two days treating people wounded in the violent turmoil, was in the square Friday.

"There are thousands and thousands of people," he said. "I can’t really count the number, but it’s more than the past few days."

CBC's David Common said some Mubarak supporters also staged their own large demonstrations on Friday, but they were kept apart from the anti-Mubarak groups by an increased military presence on the streets of Cairo.

Demonstrators had been keeping a peaceful vigil for days before violence intensified on Wednesday, a day after Mubarak said he wouldn't step down immediately. At least 11 people have been killed and about 900 injured around the Tahrir Square since Wednesday, officials said.

Since Jan. 25, when the demonstrations began, 109 people have lost their lives. .

Protesters also poured into the streets in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city.

Nesrine Abdallah, who was at the anti-government demonstrations in the port city, said the crowds were so large that she couldn't see the edges.

"Most of the people here are saying they are still going to come out every single day until this regime falls," she said.

The Facebook page that started the protest movement called on supporters to gather Friday in all Egyptian squares "so that we can put the last nail in the regime's coffin, and declare the victory of the Jan. 25 revolution."

tp-mubarak-speech-00097309

President Hosni Mubarak says he wants to resign immediately but fears that would leave the country in chaos. ((Associated Press))

The rally follows reports that U.S. and Egyptian officials are discussing a plan in which Mubarak would step down immediately.

The New York Times said Thursday that the plan would see a transitional government led by Vice-President Omar Suleiman brought in with military backing.

Mubarak's immediate departure is just one of several proposals under discussion, the Times said. The newspaper reported officials said there are no indications Suleiman or the military are prepared to stop supporting Mubarak.

Mubarak said in an interview Thursday that he wanted to step down, but fears chaos if he does.

"I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go," Mubarak said in a 20-minute interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour at the presidential palace in Cairo. 

On Monday night, he said in a speech to the nation that he won't step down before elections in September.

Suleiman said on state television on Thursday that elections must wait until September because the government needs time to talk to different political parties, and put judicial and constitutional reforms in place. He also said Mubarak's son, Gamal Mubarak, will not attempt to succeed his father.

Meanwhile, prominent Egyptian reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei said the president "should hear the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity."

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

Journalist dies of wounds 

On Friday, Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, who was shot on Jan. 28, died of his wounds. It was the first reported death of a journalist since the protests began.

Some journalists have been injured and several have been roughed up. Other members of the media have had equipment confiscated.
tp-tim-cairo-squar-rtxxgu6-306

An anti-government protester shouts anti-Mubarak slogans after Friday prayers at Tahrir Square. ((Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters))

CBC's Susan Ormiston and her crew travelled to the presidential palace in Cairo, about 15 kilometres from Tahrir Square, only to be detained for 2½ hours by police.

Once released, crew members had to pass through several dangerous areas and were surrounded four times by mobs on the way back to their hotel. Ormiston gave credit to the crew's Egyptian translator for helping get them through the roadblocks.

On Friday Navi Pillay, the UN’s top human rights official, denounced attacks on activists and journalists, and said they're "clearly a blatant attempt to stifle news" about demands for Mubarak to step down.

The treatment of journalists led Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to call in the Egyptian ambassador to Canada to express his "grave concerns" about the treatment of journalists.

[GALLERY id=4403 cat=news]
With files from The Associated Press