Soon after his speech, clashes erupted between protesters and government supporters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, and gunshots were heard, according to footage by Al-Jazeera television.
Muabrak's half-way concession — an end to his rule seven months down the road — threatened to inflame frustration and anger among protesters, who have been peaceful in recent days but have made clear they will not end their unprecedented week-old wave of demonstrations until he is out.
The speech was immediately derided by protesters massed in Cairo's central Tahrir Square. Watching his speech on a giant TV, protesters booed and waved their shoes over their heads at his image in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted. One man screamed, "He doesn't want to say it, he doesn't want to say it."
In the 10-minute address, Mubarak appeared somber but spoke firmly without an air of defeat. The president who has ruled the country for nearly three decades — and during that time has rarely if ever admitted to making a mistake or reversing himself under pressure — insisted that his decision not to run for a new six-year term had nothing to do with the protests.
"I tell you in all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term," he said. "I will work for the final remaining months of the current term to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power."
Mubarak, a former air force commander, resolutely vowed not to flee the country. "This is my dear homeland ... I have lived in it, I fought for it and defended its soil, sovereignty and interests. On its soil I will die. History will judge me and all of us."
The United States has been struggling to find a way to ease Mubarak out of office while maintaining stability in Egypt, a key ally in the Mideast that has a 30-year-old peace treaty with Israel and has been a bullwark against Islamic militantcy. An envoy sent by President Barack Obama to work out a transition — former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, a friend of the Egyptian president — told Mubarak directly that that the U.S "view that his tenure as president is coming to close," according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the ongoing diplomacy.
The U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Margaret Scobey, spoke by telephone Tuesday with Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the most prominent leaders of the opposition, the embassy said. The pro-democracy advocate has taken a key role with other opposition groups in formulating the movement's demands for Mubarak to step down and allow a transitional government paving the way for free elections. There was no immediate word on what they discussed.
Only a month ago, Mubarak's announcement could have been seen as a formula for a stable handover and would certainly have been a stunning development greeted with joy by reform activists — many Egyptians have assumed he was certain to run again despite health issues. But after the past week of unheaval, it struck many of those in the streets as too little and as an infuriating stubbornness.
Tuesday's protest marked a dramatic escalation that organizers said aims to drive Mubarak out by Friday. In a single day, the protesters' numbers multiplied more than tenfold, with more than a quarter-million people flooding into Tahrir, or Liberation, Square.
Protesters jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, with schoolteachers, farmers, unemployed university graduates, women in conservative headscarves and women in high heels, men in suits and working-class men in scuffed shoes. Joining the crowds were significant numbers who defied a government transportation shutdown and roadblocks on intercity highways to make their way from rural provinces.
They sang nationalist songs, danced, beat drums and chanted the anti-Mubarak slogan "Leave! Leave! Leave!" as military helicopters buzzed overhead. Organizers said the aim was to intensify marches to get the president out of power by Friday, and similar demonstrations erupted in at least five other cities around Egypt.
Soldiers at checkpoints set up at the entrances of the square did nothing to stop the crowds from entering. The military promised on state TV Monday night that it would not fire on protesters answering a call for a million to demonstrate, a sign that army support for Mubarak may be unraveling.
Mubarak would be the second Arab leader pushed from office by a popular uprising in the history of the modern Middle East, following the ouster last month of the president of Tunisia — another North African nation.
The movement to drive Mubarak out has been built on the work of online activists and fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant. After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the Tunisia unrest took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable series of protests across this nation of 80 million.
The repercussions were being felt around the Mideast, as other authoritarian governments fearing popular discontent pre-emptively tried to burnish their democratic image.
Jordan's King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the face of smaller street protests, named an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet and ordered him to launch political reforms. The Palestinian Cabinet in the West Bank said it would hold long-promised municipal elections "as soon as possible."
So far, Egypt's protesters have rejected earlier concessions by Mubarak, including the dissolution of his government, the naming of a new one and the appointment of a vice president, Omar Suleiman, who offered a dialogue with "political forces" over constitutional and legislative reforms.