Mubarak expected to step down today; crowds await speech

CAIRO — Millions of Egyptians are bracing for an imminent announcement that embattled President Hosni Mubarak will hand over power to military leadership, according to news reports.

State television said Thursday evening that Mubarak would address the nation "within hours" on the 17th day of anti-government protests that have shaken his three-decade grip on power. As news of the impending announcement spread, large crowds of people were streaming toward Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests in Cairo.

Military officials met for several hours Thursday, but Mubarak wasn't in attendance, according to Arab news channels. Prime Minster Ahmed Shafik told state television that Mubarak remained in power and that no decision had been made to remove him.

However, the general secretary of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party said that Mubarak would "respond to the people's demands" tonight, according to news reports.

In Washington, the National Security Council convened an emergency meeting to discuss Egypt.

Cheers went up from Tahrir Square but the prospect of military rule is unsettling to many Egyptians. If Vice President Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's longtime confidant and intelligence chief, takes over many protesters said they wouldn't leave the streets.

Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive whose release from secret detention earlier this week inspired protesters, said on Twitter: "Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians."

But that comment was immediately met with skepticism from pro-democracy activists, who said that it was too soon to declare victory. A few minutes later, Ghonim had removed the comment.