CAIRO -President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down Thursday, saying in a televised speech that he would remain Egypt's head of state until elections in the fall but had delegated powers to his vice president.
Anticipation turned to rage in Cairo's main square, where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had gathered in hopes of witnessing history: a 17-day popular rebellion ending 30 years of U.S.-supported authoritarian rule. When Mubarak made it clear that he would stay, protesters sobbed, embraced in anguish and chanted, "Leave! Leave!"
The brief speech, Mubarak's third since the revolt began on Jan. 25, revealed an octogenarian president who appears willing to risk an escalation of violence before giving up his post. To those allied with the protest movement, Mubarak's refusal to step aside amounted to a declaration of war against his own people, and they vowed retaliation in nationwide demonstrations on Friday.
Late Thursday, satellite TV channels reported that hundreds of protesters had gathered in front the heavily guarded presidential palace and were planning marches on other sensitive sites.
The crowds in Tahrir Square booed and showed their disgust by waving their shoes when Mubarak, in tones the protesters described as patronizing, waxed nostalgic about his military service and affirmed his commitment to reforming the constitution, which was designed to keep his regime in power.