Anti-government protesters throw stones during clashes in downtown Cairo on Thursday. ((Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press))

U.S. and Egyptian officials are discussing a plan that would see embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately, according to a published report.

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

The Times cited unnamed U.S. government officials and Arab diplomats in its report.

IDs, licences seized 


ID cards said to belong to secret police. ((CBC))

Protesters involved in Thursday's melee in Tahrir Square found identification cards and licence plates they say prove the battles were state-sanctioned and initiated by secret police loyal to President Hosni Mubarak.

The CBC's Susan Ormiston reported she was shown a cache of police licence plates and police IDs. Later, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the violence, even as the government denied any involvement.

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

Earlier in the day, Mubarak said 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 Thursday at the presidential palace in Cairo. 

Mubarak told Amanpour that during a phone conversation earlier this week with U.S. President Barack Obama, he told Obama, "'You don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now?'"

At the centre of deadly anti-government protests that are in their 10th day are demands that Mubarak resign immediately.

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

Meanwhile, Monir Abdel Nour, secretary general of the Wafd opposition party in Egypt, is calling Mubarak a "dead man walking."


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

In an interview with CBC's As it Happens Thursday, Nour said he boycotted talks with the government Thursday, because of the "massacre" he saw on the streets of Cairo Wednesday. He predicts that if demonstrations continue like they have been, a coup d'etat is inevitable.

Vice-President 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.

Suleiman also said that Mubarak's son will not attempt to succeed his father.

Gamal Mubarak had long been expected to succeed his father, something widely opposed by Egyptians.


Gamal Mubarak, son of the president, will not attempt to succeed his father, Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman says in a concession to anti-government protesters. ((Ben Curtis/Associated Press))

Gunfire and clashes continued in the evening around Cairo's Tahrir Square, with reports of arson and looting around the capital. Gangs supporting the president attacked reporters, foreigners and human rights workers, and the army has rounded up foreign journalists.

CBC reporter Margaret Evans had some of her equipment seized. Separately, CBC host Mark Kelley and his crew were in a vehicle on a bridge when they were surrounded by a group of armed men who demanded to search the car. Only a plea from Kelley's Egyptian driver, who had been pulled out of the car, defused the tense situation.

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.

Mubarak supporters and opponents have been fighting for more than 24 hours. At least eight people have been killed since the clashes erupted Wednesday afternoon.

On the international front, a joint statement Thursday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero urged an immediate "quick and orderly transition to a broad-based government."

Merkel also insisted that Mubarak's government put a stop to attacks against anti-government protesters and journalists.

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Uprising in Egypt

CBC's David Common, reporting from Cairo, said it appeared that soldiers fired over the heads of pro-Mabarak supporters in an effort to keep them apart from the anti-government group.

He said that early Thursday morning a pickup truck with Mubarak supporters drove into a crowd of anti-government demonstrators.  The pro-Mubarak supporters were pulled out of the truck and "beaten relentlessly" by the large crowd.


A group of soldiers pass by anti-government protesters just outside Cairo's main square on Thursday. ((Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press))

The two sides traded volleys of rocks and Molotov cocktails for much of Wednesday night, until automatic gunfire and powerful single shots rained into the square starting at around 4 a.m. and continuing for more than two hours.

"Most of the casualties were the result of stone throwing and attacks with metal rods and sticks. At dawn today, there were gunshots," Health Minister Ahmed Samih Farid told state television.

"The real casualties taken to hospital were 836, of which 86 are still in hospital, and there are five dead."

Soldiers had not intervened in the clashes, other than firing warning shots.

The Associated Press reported that four tanks cleared a highway overpass from where Mubarak supporters had hurled rocks and firebombs onto the protesters.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the attacks on demonstrators.

"This is a fatal error," he said. "When investigations reveal who is behind this crime and who allowed it to happen, I promise they will be held accountable and will be punished for what they did."

The anti-Mubarak movement has vowed to intensify protests to force him out by Friday despite a plea from a military spokesman for anti-government demonstrators to clear the streets and go home.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department said it has logged 15,000 calls on the Egyptian crisis and 489 Canadians have been evacuated on six flights out of that country to date. The sixth flight left Thursday afternoon for Paris, via Amman, Jordan.

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With files from The Associated Press