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Mubarak Steps Down

Egypt’s embattled President Hosni Mubarak abruptly stepped down as president, ending his 30-year-rein, and Egyptian armed forces will take over the leadership of the country, vice president Omar Suleiman announced today.

Crowds gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted into loud cheers, chanting “Egypt is free,” as the historic announcement was made.

“My fellow citizens. In this difficult time that the country is going through, the president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has decided to relieve himself of his position as president and the Supreme military council has taken control of the state’s affairs. May God protect us,” Suleiman announced on national TV.

Mubarak left the presidential palace in Cairo earlier today as protesters kept the pressure on the government to force Mubarak out of office.

Sources tell ABC News that the 82-year-old president has gone to an estate he owns in Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on the Red Sea about 250 miles from the protests in Cairo. Mubarak told ABC News last week he may eventually retire to the resort town, but vowed never to leave Egypt.

A senior Egyptian official told ABC News Mubarak’s departure from the palace was intended to be symbolic, as well a visual withdrawal from the political process after having handed over most of his authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman. But the move does not preclude him from returning or inhibit his ability to oversee constitutional amendments, the official said.

In a sign that the regime may be shaky, Hossam Badrawi — who was appointed head of the ruling party just days ago — announced that he will resign from his post. Badrawi was widely cited by news outlets on Thursday as saying that Mubarak would step down, reports that turned out be false.

The military earlier today announced on state television that the regime’s much hated emergency law will be lifted when the security situation allows — echoing Mubarak’s statement from Thursday — and encouraged protesters to leave the streets and return to their homes.

Egypt‘s controversial emergency laws have been in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1967 and give the government far-reaching powers at the expense of judicial review and civil liberties.

The army said it would make an important announcement soon.

But demonstrators were defiant, filling Tahrir Square for an 18th day to demand Mubarak’s ouster. Thousands more marched toward the state television building, a prime new target for today’s protests.

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