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The Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt's most popular opposition groups, has relented and says it will join in talks aimed at finding a solution to the country's political crisis.

"We have decided to engage in a round of dialogue to ascertain the seriousness of officials towards the demands of the people and their willingness to respond to them," a spokesman for the group told Reuters news agency late Saturday.

For days, the Muslim Brotherhood refused to take part in the negotiations with Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman.

Though officially barred in Egypt, the Islamist organization is one of the most influential opposition groups in the country. The group believes an Islamic state can be achieved through political, not violent, means.

The announcement comes in the wake of the resignations of the leaders in embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party on Saturday as massive demonstrations against the longtime ruler's regime continued for a 12th day.

Party members who stepped down include Secretary General Safwat el-Sharif and Gamal Mubarak, the son of the president. Hossam Badrawi was named as the new secretary general, according to state TV.

Arab television networks, including Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera English, initially reported on Saturday that Mubarak himself had also resigned from the National Democratic Party in the apparent shakeup. But Al-Arabiya later retracted its report and it appeared the 82-year-old ruler was not giving up the reins of power yet.

The CBC's Susan Ormiston described the resignations as a further "chipping away" of Mubarak's power by the regime.

"He's still the president, still the head of state, but clearly they're looking for ways to appease the demands of the people still in Tahrir Square," Ormiston reported late Saturday from Cairo.

As news of the resignations spread to the rain-soaked protest site, Ormiston said the answer from demonstrators was as predictable: 'That's great, but not enough.' "

Controversial comment

Late Saturday, the U.S. State Department made sure to distance itself from remarks made by U.S. special envoy Frank Wisner on Saturday that Mubarak should stay in office during a transition of power.

"President Mubarak's role remains utterly critical in the days ahead while we sort our way toward a future," Wisner said in a video-link address Saturday from New York City to a security conference in Munich, Germany, that was also attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Wisner, a former U.S. diplomat in Egypt who met earlier in the week with Mubarak at the request of the White House, said the longtime ruler must remain to keep Egypt committed to its international obligations, including its peace treaty with Israel. 

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Wisner's views were his own and had not been co-ordinated with the White house.

Speaking at the Munich security conference earlier in the day, Clinton said the status quo throughout the Middle East is "simply not sustainable."

"The region is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends," she said. "Leaders in the region may be able to hold back the tide for a little while, but not for long."

Army commander makes direct appeal

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, speaks to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines at the International Conference on Security Policy in Munich, Germany. ((Associated Press))

State TV announced late Saturday that banks and courts, closed during most of the mayhem, will reopen Sunday, the start of Egypt's work week. However, daily bank withdrawals will be limited and the stock market will be closed at least through Monday.

Attempts by the army to clear Tahrir Square have been met with resistance. Late into the night, the army set up check points farther away from the square in central Cairo. The CBC's David Common reported saw the army confiscating food and other supplies and has heard they are turning away cars but letting pro-government supporters through.

Earlier Saturday, an Egyptian army commander made a direct plea for protesters to leave the central square in Cairo, suggesting the economic cost of their attempt to oust Mubarak is too high for the country to survive.

"You all have the right to express yourselves but please save what is left of Egypt," Reuters quoted Hassan al-Roweny as he addressed thousands of protesters on Saturday through a loud speaker.

The scene was tense but calm after another round of stone-throwing between demonstrators and Mubarak supporters in street sides just east of Tahrir Square on Friday.

Despite the rain and colder temperatures, the energy level remained high as protesters waved flags, clapped, banged on metal barricades, chanted and played music, the CBC's Ormiston said.

Officials say at least 109 people have been killed since the protests began on Jan. 25.

Mubarak, the head of Egypt's central bank and various cabinet ministers met earlier in the day to review what kind of effect the protests are having on Egypt's economy.

It's estimated the standoff has cost the country an estimated $3.1 billion US, while Trade Minister Samiha Fawzi Ibrahim said exports from Egypt were down six per cent cent in January due to the protests, Reuters reported.

Earlier in the week, Mubarak, who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years, said he would not run in the September presidential election.

He said he would work over the remaining months of his term to guarantee a peaceful transition of power.

With files from The Associated Press