Opposition figure Mohammed ElBaradei emerged from house arrest late Sunday to join protesters in central Cairo, echoing their demand that U.S.-allied President Hosni Mubarak resign and establishing himself as the face of Egypt's six-day pro-democracy uprising.
The dramatic nighttime appearance by ElBaradei - the Nobel Peace Prize winner who returned to Egypt last week after the protests began - suddenly placed him at the forefront of a leaderless grass-roots revolt that has brought one of the Arab world's longest and most entrenched dictatorships to the brink of collapse.
As the banned Muslim Brotherhood and other Egyptian opposition groups said they would support ElBaradei in negotiations for a new government, U.S. President Barack Obama called allies and expressed support for "an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people," according to a White House statement.
Mubarak's days appeared to be numbered, although the 82-year-old leader showed no obvious signs that he would give up the office he has for nearly 30 years. F-16 fighter jets buzzed protesters in downtown Cairo in a show of intimidation. News services reported that the Egyptian army was sending reinforcements and state television said that the police, who have been absent from the streets since Friday, would resume patrols.
Cairo remained an anxious battle zone: long lines at fuel pumps, markets plucked clean of bread and other staples, shops boarded up or looted, banks and restaurants shuttered. Neighborhood-watch groups armed themselves against the marauding gangs that many Egyptians thought had been unleashed by the hated Interior Ministry to sow chaos. Dozens of prisoners reportedly escaped or been freed from jails.