Witnesses: Egyptian army withdraws from positions near presidential palace

Eyewitnesses on Thursday night said the Egyptian army had troops pulled out of many locations near the presidential palace in Cairo, where they had been stationed since the beginning of the ongoing popular uprising.

Sources said army tanks had disappeared from Salah Salem Street, which is near the presidential palace and President Hosni Mubarak’s residence.

They added troops had withdrawn before today's meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces from which Mubarak was absent.

The sources opined that the withdrawal of the troops could be a warning to the president that the army may not be able to protect him if protesters decided to march towards the palace.

This came shortly after Egypt’s military announced Thursday night that it was stepping in an attempt to end the three-week-old crisis.

The military declared on state television that it would take measures “to maintain the homeland and the achievements and aspirations of the great people of Egypt” and meet the demands of the protesters who have insisted on Mubarak’s ouster.

Several government officials said Mubarak was expected to announce his own resignation and pass authority to his hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman.

But if the military does assume formal control of the government, it remains unclear if it would give Suleiman, a former military officer, a leading role.

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