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Tens of thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday for a peaceful "march of a million people," demanding for an eighth straight day that President Hosni Mubarak end his authoritarian rule and step down.

Even after sunset, the square remained thick with people, as many as 250,000, according to reports, with many of them chanting and beating drums. Many also held banners, flags and signs, including one reading, "Please let us choose our own president."

The scene was noticeably peaceful, according to the CBC's Susan Ormiston.

"Every inch of that square in mid-afternoon ... was covered in people" — including women, families and men of all ages, Ormiston said. "And there was no violence."

Earlier in the day, the CBC's Margaret Evans called the atmosphere in the square "very celebratory" and "like a big party."

"Some people do express a little puzzlement," she said. "They say, 'We don't understand. This is unprecedented. Look at all the people here in this square. Why hasn't he left yet?'

"They're determined to see the back of him, and they think they have the upper hand."

In a recorded statement broadcast on Tuesday, Mubarak announced that he would not seek re-election in September, "ending my career for the sake of the nation."

Speaking to CBC News from Tahrir Square, Nesrine Abdallah, an Egyptian protester, said that's not good enough.

"Me and the people want him to step down now. Not tomorrow, not the day after. Not next year and not the next election. We want him out now," she said.

The Egyptian military, which has pledged not to fire on the protesters, has set up checkpoints around the square to dissuade would-be trouble makers. Rows of armed soldiers lined a road leading from the square to some government buildings.

Generally, however, the soldiers appeared "cordial," Evans said. In some cases, soldiers sat relaxedly on tanks, chatting with protesters.

As the crowds gathered on Tuesday morning, plainclothes officers circulated among them, handing out written warnings that "those who break the law will be dealt with harshly."

Citizens also frisked people coming into the square to ensure they were not carrying weapons.

Protesters camp out overnight

The Associated Press reported that roads and public transportation to Cairo had been shut down ahead of the planned march. Train services nationwide were suspended for a second day and all bus services between cities were halted.

Roads in and out of the cities of Alexandria, Suez, Masnoura and Fayoum were also closed.

Protesters also gathered in at least five other cities across Egypt.

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Anti-government protesters shout slogans as they march toward Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. ((Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press))

Several thousand people camped out overnight in Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, sleeping on a grass traffic circle and the pavement in the massive plaza.

The planned protest comes as military spokesman Ismail Etman said the military "has not and will not use force against the public," and underlined that "the freedom of peaceful expression is guaranteed for everyone."

Etman added that protesters should not commit "any act that destabilizes security of the country" or damage property.

Death toll rises

On Monday, thousands of protesters defied a curfew in Cairo again, taking to the streets for a seventh straight day of anti-government demonstrations and demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down by Friday.

Since thousands of protesters took to the streets in Cairo and other major cities across Egypt last Tuesday, more than 97 people have been killed, according to official figures, but reports from witnesses across the country indicate the actual toll was far higher. About 2,000 have been injured.

About 40 coalition representatives have been meeting to discuss the future of Egypt after Mubarak. They blame the 82-year-old for widespread poverty, inflation and official indifference and brutality during his 30 years in power.

In an apparent attempt to show change, State TV reported that Mubarak has given instructions to the new cabinet to alleviate economic burdens on citizens. Mubarak dropped the interior minister, who is in charge of security forces and whom protesters had denounced for the brutality of police.

State-run newspapers also reported that Mubarak has asked his new prime minister to introduce reforms and ensure "wider participation" by political parties.

Meanwhile, world leaders called for a peaceful transition to democratic elections and began evacuating their citizens from Egypt.

The first Canadian flight out of Egypt arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, on Monday after a six-hour delay caused when airport officials demanded $2,000 US in cash from the passengers.


Protest sites and other points of interest across Egypt. View the map in a larger size.
With files from The Associated Press