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Obama pushes for swift Mubarak exit

CAIRO - A new rally Friday by nearly 100,000 protesters in Cairo and behind-the-scenes diplomacy from the Obama administration piled more pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to make a swift exit and allow a temporary government to embark on an immediate path toward democracy.

Two days of wild clashes between protesters and regime supporters that killed 11 people this week seemed to have pushed the United States to the conclusion that an Egypt with Mubarak at the helm is potentially more unstable than one without him.

For the first time in the 11- day wave of protests, varying scenarios were being put forward by two opposing camps in Egypt and by the United States on how to usher the country into a post-Mubarak era after nearly 30 years of his authoritarian rule.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said Friday that discussions have begun in Egypt on a turnover of the government and he pushed for "a transition period that begins now." He did not explicitly call for Mubarak to step down immediately, saying details "will be worked by Egyptians."

But U.S. officials said the administration has made a judgment that Mubarak has to go soon if the crisis is to end peacefully.

Under one U.S. proposal being discussed with the Egyptians, the 82-year-old Mubarak would step down and hand power to a military-backed temporary government headed by his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks. The government would prepare for free and fair elections later this year.

That would mesh in some ways with the demands of the protesters. But one significant difference was the timetable.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the protesters, criticized the government's plan to reform the constitution within five months so presidential elections can be held in September. He said that was too rushed and indicated the regime was not serious about real change.

Mubarak has refused to step down, and his prime minister said Friday that stance is "unlikely" to change. Mubarak insists he must serve out the rest of his term until September to ensure stability.

He warned in an interview with ABC News that chaos would ensue if he leaves. "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now," Mubarak said he told Obama.

The protesters have vowed to continue their rallies until he goes. Nearly 100,000 people packed the downtown Tahrir Square, whose name means "Liberation," in a protest dubbed the "Friday of departure" in hopes it would be the day Mubarak goes - the biggest showing since Tuesday, when a quarter-million people rallied.

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