PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak said last night that Egypt needed dialogue not violence to end problems that have provoked a wave of riots across the country.
In an address the nation on state television the beleaguered president said: "I have asked the government to present its resignation," adding that he would move to appoint a new government later today.
A wave of violent protests, which have so far caused six deaths have sparked demands for Mr Mubarak's resignation. He has been in power since 1981.
But Mr Mubarak also defended the crackdown by police on tens of thousands of demonstrators that drew harsh criticism from the Obama administration in Washington yesterday.
Washington has threatened to reduce a $1.5bn (€1.1bn) programme of foreign aid if Egypt escalated the use of force.
A sombre looking Mr Mubarak called anti-government protests "part of a bigger plot to shake the stability and destroy legitimacy" of the political system.
The steps announced in a nationally televised speech fell short of protesters' demands for his ouster that have been a constant mantra during four straight days of demonstrations.
"Out, out, out," protesters chanted last night in violent, chaotic scenes of battles with riot police.
They also demand remedies to widespread poverty in a nation of more than 80 million people.
"We aspire for more democracy, more effort to combat unemployment and poverty and combat corruption," Mr Mubarak said.
But those words were likely to be interpreted as an attempt to cling to power rather than take concrete steps to solve some of the more pressing problems facing many Egyptians, primarily unemployment and rapidly rising food prices.
Mr Mubarak also defended the security forces' crackdown on protesters, saying he had given them instructions that the protesters be allowed to express their views.
But, he said, acts of violence and vandalism left the security forces with no choice but to restore order.
Protesters have seized the streets of Cairo, battling police with stones and firebombs, burning down the ruling party headquarters, and defying a night curfew enforced by a military deployment.
It is the peak of unrest posing the most dire threat to Mr Mubarak in his three decades of authoritarian rule.
He said this week's protests struck fear in the heart of the majority of Egyptians concerned about the future of their country.
"Violence will not solve the problems we face or realise the objectives we aspire to," he said. "I will not shy away from taking any decision that maintains the security of every Egyptian," he vowed.
As he spoke, canisters of tear gas spiralled through the air, leaving thin white trails of peppery smoke in the sky before they skidded on to the asphalt and sent protesters fleeing.