Egypt braces for Mubarak's possible ouster

Jubilant protesters packed Cairo's Tahrir Square by the thousands following unconfirmed reports that suggest Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may step down despite a government denial.

Mood 'festive' despite minister denying president's resignation

Jubilant protesters packed Cairo's Tahrir Square by the thousands Thursday following unconfirmed reports that suggest Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may step down despite a government denial.

There was an electric atmosphere and a huge sense of anticipation in the square as protesters broke into chants of, "We're almost there, we're almost there," and waved V-for-victory signs as thousands more flowed in to join them well after nightfall.

"The mood is very festive," protester Mahmoud Salem told CBC News in an interview from Cairo. "It's a fantastic, fantastic day."

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, is expected to make a televised address within hours Thursday, the 17th day of anti-government protests.

But the protesters' euphoria that they were nearing their goal of Mubarak's fall was tempered with worries that a military takeover and reports that Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman might assume power could scuttle their wider demands for true democracy.

Many vowed to continue protests.

Egypt's military announced on national television earlier Thursday that it had stepped in to secure the country and promised protesters that all their demands would soon be met.

Hassan Badrawi, the secretary general of the ruling party, told the BBC earlier Thursday that he hopes Mubarak will "step aside" and transfer power.

Earlier, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told BBC Arabic that the possibility of Mubarak stepping down was being discussed.

However, Egypt's information minister denied Mubarak will step down. The comment by Anas el-Fiqqi, appeared in a written scroll on state television Thursday,

The minister's comment raises the possibility that Mubarak could announce a half measure, such as keeping his title while relinquishing his executive powers.

In Michigan, U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to signal that victory for the protesters was imminent.

"We are witnessing history unfold. It's a moment of transition because the people of Egypt are calling for change," Obama said Thursday afternoon. "The United States will do everything we can to support an orderly transition to democracy."

In Washington, CIA director Leon Panetta said he has received reports that Mubarak will step down Thursday evening, but does not have confirmation the longtime leader will actually step aside.

CBC's David Common said large crowds of people poured into Tahrir Square as the rumours of the president's impending resignation spread.

"There are crowds coming in, crossing the Nile from downtown Cairo, going past the soldiers, the barricades and into Tahrir Square," Common said.

Anti-government protests began in Egypt on Jan. 25. In recent days, many Egyptian workers have also launched labour disruptions and strikes.

The strikes have affected a range of industries, from telecommunications to textiles to transportation.

"People are trying to put pressure on the governing regime to step down [but] people are also taking advantage of what's going on here to try and demand better wages and better conditions," CBC's Margaret Evans said.

The protesters filling streets of Cairo and other cities have already posed the greatest challenge to the president's authoritarian rule.

They have wrought promises of sweeping concessions and reforms, a new cabinet and a purge of the ruling party leadership, but Mubarak has so far refused their demands that he step down before September elections.

With files from The Associated Press