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Decision time looms for army

A host of Barack Obama's most senior officials have been delivering an unequivocal message to the generals who surround Hosni Mubarak: The Egyptian president needs to swiftly organise a transition of power, and announce his imminent departure.

With most governments, such a strong push from the world's sole superpower, which supplies Egypt with €900bn a year in military aid, would surely be enough. But it is far from clear whether the generals have the conviction to act.

One retired general, Mohammed Khadri Said, said the army had been forced into its embarrassing situation, between mobs of stone-throwing youths, because of the withdrawal of the police. But he said it had stood by its constitutional requirement not to involve itself in politics.

The regime may have been caught out in this crisis, but it has reasserted itself since Wednesday, albeit by sanctioning thugs to attack protesters.

With a deadline of today set by demonstrators and the opposition figurehead, Mohamed ElBaradei, for Mr Mubarak to stand down, the army's reticence will now be put to the test. It is not known whose side it would take if forced, despite its earlier acknowledgement of the protesters' "legitimate grievances".

Loyalists believe that the government can stare demonstrators down. Hossam Suweilam, a former head of the Nasser Military Academy, said that the crisis would have blown over "by Sunday". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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