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Some top leaders step down in Egypt

CAIRO - The top leadership body of Egypt's ruling party, including the president's son, resigned yesterday but protesters rejected the concessions and vowed to keep up their campaign until Hosni Mubarak resigns.

Tens of thousands thronged Cairo's central Tahrir Square in a 12th day of protests, chanting "He will go! He will go!"

But the United States gave a strong endorsement to Mubarak's deputy Omar Suleiman's handling of the transition, warning that order was needed to prevent extremists from hijacking the process.

"It's important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government actually headed by now-Vice President Omar Suleiman," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at an international security conference in Munich, Germany.

Frank Wisner, the retired American diplomat sent by President Barack Obama to Cairo this past week to tell Mubarak that the United States saw his rule coming to an end, said Mubarak had to keep a leadership role at least temporarily if the "fragile glimmerings" of progress were to take hold as quickly as needed.

Mubarak insists he will remain in his post until his term ends in the fall after presidential elections in September.

Washington has said the transition should bring greater democracy to ensure a free and fair vote.

But protesters said they fear that without an immediate Mubarak exit and the pressure from the streets, the regime will emerge with its authoritarian monopoly largely intact.

"What happened so far does not qualify as reform," said Amr Hamzawy, a member of the Committee of Wise Men, a self-appointed group of prominent figures from Egypt's elite that is unconnected to the protesters but has met with Suleiman to explore solutions to the crisis. "There seems to be a deliberate attempt by the regime to distract the proponents of change and allow the demands to disintegrate in the hope of [regime] survival."

The ruling party leaders who resigned included some of the country's most powerful political figures, including the National Democratic Party's secretary-general, Safwat el-Sharif, and the president's son Gamal Mubarak, who has long been seen as his father's intended heir as president.

Hossam Badrawi, a ruling party figure who is a physician and whose family owns one of Cairo's exclusive hospitals, was named as the new secretary-general and as head of the party's policies committee, replacing Gamal.

Yesterday, authorities were projecting an air of confidence they can ride it out. Suleiman has invited all the protest groups and opposition parties into immediate negotiations on constitutional reforms.

So far, the youth movements leading the protests have staunchly refused, saying Mubarak must leave and a broad-based transitional leadership put in place to ensure the ruling party and regime do not dominate the terms of constitutional change.

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