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Egyptian protesters jubilant over their success in ousting President Hosni Mubarak vowed Saturday to stay camped in a central Cairo square until they are confident the military will meet their demands for democracy.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces banned ex-regime officials from traveling abroad and relaxed a nighttime curfew, according to officials and state TV, but it had yet to release a much anticipated statement on its next steps.
Mubarak surrendered power to the military Friday after an 18-day uprising by millions of protesters demanding his ouster and the introduction of sweeping democratic reforms, leading to euphoric celebrations throughout the North African nation of 80 million people.
Cleanup efforts began Saturday on Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, although it was still packed with thousands of people.
Burnt-out vehicles were towed away while people, including young activists wearing surgical masks, swept the streets and hauled away mounds of trash. Soldiers removed barricades to open at least a road leading to the square.
Many wore placards saying “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re building Egypt.”
Protesters were divided about how long to stay, and people were still entering the square through checkpoints.
Some took down their makeshift tents, returning blankets donated by Islamic charities and heading home. Others vowed to stay put until the military, which has pledged to shepherd reforms for greater democracy, issues a promised communique, which would be its fourth since the crisis began.
“We have to see how the army will orchestrate a democratic transfer of power. We have to wait and see,” said Ali Mohammed, a sales manager camped out on the square.
Under a banner reading “the people managed to oust the regime,” two other protesters argued about whether to clear the downtown square near the famed Egyptian museum.
Khaled Abdel-Hamid, a member of a coalition of groups behind the protests, said they have no unified leadership to determine when they should leave. But he said there was a consensus that the square would not emptied until the army speaks again.
“The army hasn’t laid out exactly what it intends to do in the coming days, therefore, we are here and will remain here,” Abdel-Hamid said.
Shopkeeper Gomaa Abdel-Maqsoud says he’s been in Tahrir Square since the protests began on Jan. 25 and is ready to go. He says “I have never seen such happiness in peoples’ faces before; what else do I want?” he asked.
Nadal Saqr, a university professor, insisted protesters should stay until the army offers “clear assurances” that their demands for democracy are met.
Elsewhere, Egyptians in coffee houses and on the street scoured newspapers for details about the astonishing events from the day before — when hundreds of thousands marched on Mubarak’s palaces in Cairo and Alexandria and besieged state TV, leading the military to effectively carry out a coup at the pleas of protesters.
A Cairo airport official said there is a list of former regime members and current officials with state institutions who are not allowed to leave the country without permission from the state prosecutor or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, declined to identify those on the list. But he said Information Minister Anas el-Fiqqi sent his luggage but did not appear for a planned flight to London Saturday, apparently after hearing of the ban.
Mubarak’s regime also has faced long-standing allegations of corruption.
“These instructions are meant to prevent any people who were in charge in the previous era from fleeing,” the airport official said.
Egypt’s state television also reported the military had ordered that a nighttime curfew be pushed back to midnight to 8 p.m. — a move likely to be widely welcomed in a city of 18 million that has been essentially under siege since the protests began on Jan. 25.
Banks reopened last week and the stock market was scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after it was closed.
Most stores in Cairo have reopened, and the usually congested traffic was returning to its normal level.
Pro-government papers along with state-run TV and radio, which had long been forced to toe the ruling party line, shifted their editorial policy and congratulated the Egyptian people.
The once pro-Mubarak paper Al-Ahram daily ran a front page headline declaring “the people ousted the regime. The Egyptian youth forced Mubarak to leave. Egyptians have been celebrating until morning, with victory in the first popular revolution in their history.”
State TV, which was the site of mass protests against government propaganda, promised in a statement that it “will be honest in carrying its message.”
The 82-year-old former leader, meanwhile, remained with his family in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, according to local officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
Mubarak’s downfall at the hands of the biggest popular uprising in the modern history of the Arab world had stunning implications for the United States and the West, Israel, and the region, unsettling rulers across the Mideast.
President Barack Obama’s senior military adviser was heading to the Mideast Saturday to reassure two key allies — Jordan, facing its own rumblings of civil unrest, and Israel, which sees its security at stake in a wider transformation of the Arab world.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was stopping first in Amman for meetings Sunday with senior Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II. Jordan has seen five weeks of protests inspired by unrest in Tunisia and later Egypt, though the numbers of marchers has been decreasing.
He then was to Tel Aviv for meetings and ceremonies Sunday and Monday marking the retirement of his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Mullen had no plans to visit Egypt on this trip.
Israel is deeply worried about the prospect that Mubarak’s ouster could lead to the emergence of a government less friendly to the Jewish state.
Any break seems unlikely in the near term. The military leadership supports the treaty. Anti-Israeli feeling is strong among Egyptians, and a more democratic government may take a tougher line toward Israel in the chronically broken-down peace process. But few call for outright abrogating a treaty that has kept peace after three wars in the past half-century.
Associated Press writers Paul Schemm and Salah Nasrawi contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press