By Jonathan Wright and Marwa Awad CAIRO | Thu Feb 3, 2011 6:30pm EST
(Reuters) - President Hosni Mubarak said on Thursday he wanted to quit but that he feared his resignation would bring chaos to Egypt, as protesters demanding an end to his 30-year rule clashed with his supporters on Cairo's streets.
Mubarak's government has struggled to regain control of a nation angry about poverty, recession and political repression, inviting Islamist opponents to talks and apologizing for Wednesday's bloodshed in Cairo that left 10 people dead.
A bloody confrontation gripped central Cairo where armed government loyalists fought pro-democracy demonstrators on Thursday in an uprising which is reshaping the modern history of this key U.S. ally and the Arab world's most populous nation.
"I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go," Mubarak, 82, who remains inside his heavily guarded palace in Cairo, said in an interview with ABC.
"If I resign today, there will be chaos," he added. Asked to comment on calls for him to resign, he said: "I don't care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country."
Protesters, who numbered some 10,000 in Tahrir (Liberation) Square during the day, prepared to defy a curfew and sleep there ahead of a big demonstration they are calling the "Friday of Departure" to mark last week's bloody "Day of Wrath" protest.
The U.S. State Department said it expected confrontation.
"We are bracing for a significant increase in the number of demonstrators on the streets and with that, given yesterday's events, the real prospects of a confrontation," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
New Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said the interior minister should not obstruct Friday's peaceful marches. The Interior Ministry has denied it ordered its agents or officers to attack anti-Mubarak protesters.
Mubarak blamed the Muslim Brotherhood movement for the violence and said his government was not responsible for it. "I was very unhappy about yesterday. I do not want to see Egyptians fighting each other," Mubarak told ABC.
But Crowley said Washington believed elements close to the government or Mubarak's ruling party were responsible for Wednesday's widespread violence. "I don't know that we have a sense of how far up the chain it went," Crowley said.
In a move to try to calm the disorder, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Thursday the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized opposition movement, had been invited to meet with the new government as part of a national dialogue with all parties.
An offer to talk to the banned group would have been unthinkable before protests erupted on January 25, indicating the giant strides made by the reformist movement since then. But scenting victory, they have refused talks until Mubarak goes.
ARMY ROLE CRITICAL
Protesters in Tahrir Square, dominated now by a youthful hard core including secular middle-class graduates and mostly poorer Islamist activists from the Brotherhood, barely listened, saying the concessions were too little and too late.
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Every able bodied Egyptian with any dignity and desire for freedom should march towards the presidential palace tomorrow as well as take over any TV news stations supportive of the Mubarak regime. The time is now, you can decide what part of history you want to be on and so can the Army. If you don’t choose the right side, the side of the majority of the Egyptian people you will regret it in the months to come. Mubarak has to go, and he has to go now and stand trial for the horrible massacre he has unleashed upon us today. Get out tomorrow and climb over tanks and trucks if you have to, but hear the call of your countryman, women and children who are crying out for justice.
The Egyptian protesters must counter-attack and take the fight to the government or else they will be slaughtered like the democracy protesters of Tienanmen Square. The only alternative is the direct confiscation of power by the people from the dictator and the army.
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