Egypt can't tolerate continued protests: VP
Thousands cheer freed Google executive Wael Ghonim
The Egyptian government "can't put up with" the street protests that have entered their third week, the country's vice president said Tuesday.
Omar Suleiman made the comment during a meeting with newspaper publishers, the state MENA news agency reported.
He said there will be "no ending of the regime" and there is no plan for President Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately.
Suleiman said the government wants negotiations with the protesters, but he added, "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."
Thousands in streets
The vice president's comments came after tens of thousands of people jammed into Cairo's Tahrir Square and overflowed onto its side streets on Tuesday.
"This is no doubt the biggest demonstration we have seen yet and it is not just in that square. It's spilled to all the streets that go into that square," the CBC's David Common said from Cairo.
"It is absolutely packed by the thousands ... And now we're beginning to see it move into other parts of the city and other city squares, which is significant, suggesting that this movement is not shrinking, not losing momentum, but is, in fact, growing and enthusiastic."
Common described the atmosphere as "festive."
"They're smiling and chanting and down there, including those who have been injured — some of them quite seriously in the violence that we've seen in the past couple of weeks."
The protesters are demanding two things, as they have since demonstrations started on Jan. 25: that Mubarak step down now and the constitution be changed so that reforms are enshrined in law.
"The protesters are saying, 'Look, we're not going to be appeased by little things. We want major developments, major change.' Perhaps the government thinks it can just wait them out," said Common.
Many protesters on Tuesday had come to see Wael Ghonim, a Google Inc. executive whose detention by secret police made him a figurehead for anti-government demonstrators. His arrival in the downtown Cairo square was met with loud cheers from the crowd.
"It was pretty clear when he was in that square," Common said.
"That's a noisy place most of the time…. When he got into that square, you could hear his arrival. The cheers and the chants went way up."
Before his arrival, some on the square chanted, "Wael Ghonim is coming today!"
Ghonim, 30, who heads Google's Middle East and North Africa marketing divisions, was released Monday after nearly two weeks in custody, during which he was blindfolded and interrogated.
"When you don't see anything but a black scene for 12 days, you keep praying that those outside still remember you," Ghonim tweeted Tuesday. "Thanks everyone."
In an interview following his release, he acknowledged he had helped set up a Facebook page that set off the massive protests that have gripped Egypt since Jan. 25.
He called the protests "the revolution of the youth of the internet and now the revolution of all Egyptians."
Ghonim went missing on Jan. 27, when he was snatched from the streets of Cairo by three plainclothes officers. His whereabouts were not known until Sunday, when a prominent Egyptian political figure confirmed he was under arrest and would soon be released.
Ghonim dismissed accusations of treason by security officials.
"Anyone with good intentions is the traitor because being evil is the norm," he said Monday.
"If I was a traitor, I would have stayed in my villa in the Emirates and made good money and said like others, 'Let this country go to hell.' But we are not traitors."
Fifi Shawqi, a 33-year-old woman who came with her three daughters and her sister to the Tahrir protest for the first time, said Ghonim inspired her.
"I saw Wael yesterday [in the interview] and I cried. I felt like he is my son and all the youth here are my sons," she said. "I think Wael brought many, many more."
Common said Tuesday's demonstration may be the largest since protests began.
"There are people chanting off street corners, stranding on traffic lights, with pictures, with face paintings," he said. "It's a very, very mixed crowd in terms of ages. Men and woman alike are singing and chanting.
There were demonstrations calling for the president's ouster around the country as well, with 18,000 people cramming into the main square of Egypt's second largest city in Alexandria.
Committee set up to recommend term limits
Many demonstrators reject a group of officially sanctioned and traditional Egyptian opposition groups that have been negotiating with the government on their behalf in recent days.
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The government has promised several concessions since an uprising began two weeks ago, but so far they have fallen short of protesters' demands that Mubarak step down immediately instead of staying on through September elections.
Mubarak's regime set up a committee Tuesday to recommend constitutional changes that would relax presidential eligibility rules and impose term limits.
Tuesday's decision was the first concrete step taken by the longtime authoritarian ruler to implement promised reforms — as well as to defuse public anger.
Mubarak's decrees were announced on state television by Suleiman, who also said that Mubarak had decreed the creation of a separate committee to monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms. The two committees would start working immediately, but Suleiman did not give details about who would sit on the panels or how they would be chosen.
Mubarak also ordered a probe into clashes last week between the protesters and supporters of the president. The committee would refer its findings to the attorney general, Suleiman said.
"The youth of Egypt deserve national appreciation," he quoted the president as saying. "They should not be detained, harassed or denied their freedom of expression."
With files from The Associated Press