* Egyptian government in bid to pacify angry nation
* Confrontation in Cairo; demonstrators demand Mubarak go
* Protesters defy curfew in main square for big Friday rally
* U.S.-backed army cautious, weighs options
(Adds Mubarak interview)
By Jonathan Wright and Marwa Awad
CAIRO, Feb 3 (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 confronted his supporters on Cairo streets.
Mubarak's government has struggled to regain control of an
angry nation, inviting Islamist opponents to talks and
apologising for bloodshed in Cairo that left 10 people dead.
A bitter and bloody confrontation gripped central Cairo
where armed government loyalists fought pro-democracy
demonstrators intent on the Mubarak, 82, stepping down.
"I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had
enough. I want to go," Mubarak said in an interview with ABC.
"If I resign today, there will be chaos," he added.
In a move to try to calm the disorder, Vice President Omar
Suleiman said on Thursday the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most
organised 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 Jan. 25, indicating the
giant strides made by the reformist movement. But scenting
victory, they have refused negotiations until Mubarak goes.
The overture came after new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq
apologised for the violence and the breakdown in law and order.
Shafiq said he did not know who was responsible for the
bloodshed, blamed by protesters on undercover police.
"As officials and a state which must protect its sons, I
thought it was necessary for me to apologise and to say that
this matter will not be repeated," the prime minister said.
Protesters, who numbered 10,000 in Tahrir (Liberation)
Square, prepared once again to defy a curfew and sleep there in
preparation for big demonstrations called for Friday as part of
an uprising fuelled by poverty, corruption and recession.
United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said up to 300
people may have died in the bloody uprising.
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.
"Suleiman has not listened to the people's needs. We want
Mubarak to leave immediately, not to stick around for another
six months," said Mohamed Anis, 29, who works at the bourse.
"We have refused dialogue and negotiation with Suleiman
until Mubarak steps down," he added.
The army's role in shaping events is crucial. Only on
Thursday did soldiers set up a clear buffer zone around the
square to separate factions after having held back. That did not
prevent new clashes, as groups pelted each other with rocks.
"Allahu Akbar, the army and the people are hand in hand,"
chanted protesters barricaded in Tahrir Square.
Doctors in makeshift hospitals at the scene said at least 10
people were dead and 800 wounded after gunmen and stick-wielding
Mubarak supporters attacked protesters on the streets for a
tenth day to demand the president end his 30-year rule.
Close to the Egyptian Museum, home to 7,000 years of
civilisation in the most populous Arab state, men fought with
rocks, clubs and makeshift shields, as U.S.-built tanks from the
Western-funded army made sporadic efforts to intervene.
The political battle behind the scenes has implications for
competing Western and Islamist influence over the Middle East
and its oil. European leaders joined the United States in urging
their long-time Arab ally to start handing over power.
His government, newly appointed in a reshuffle that failed
to appease protesters, stood by the president's insistence that
he will go but only when his fifth term ends in September.
Mubarak keeps portraying himself as a bulwark against
anarchy, or a seizure of power by Islamist radicals.
The opposition won increasingly vocal support from Mubarak's
long-time Western backers for a swifter handover of power.
"This process of transition must start now," the leaders of
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain said in a statement.
They all echoed the message from U.S. President Barack Obama
that an orderly transition of power must start immediately.
Mubarak described Obama as a very good man, but when asked
by ABC if he felt that the United States had betrayed him, he
said he told the U.S. president: "You don't understand the
Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."
U.S. officials also condemned what they called a "concerted
campaign to intimidate" journalists, after many were attacked by
government loyalists. Those arrested included the Washington
Post bureau chief in Cairo.
Opposition leaders including the liberal figurehead Mohamed
ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood said again that Mubarak
must go before they would negotiate.
TRIAL OF STRENGTH
This is a trial of strength in which army commanders are
expected to seek to preserve their institution's influence and
wealth in the face of a massive popular rejection of the old
order, widely regarded as brutal, corrupt and wasteful.
Suleiman, seen as a possible interim successor to Mubarak,
took up the theme of reconciliation, promising to release
detained demonstrators and to punish those who fomented trouble.
He confirmed that Mubarak's businessman son Gamal would not
run for president to succeed his father. Ten days ago, that
would have been shock news. It surprised no one today.
The protests were inspired by events in Tunisia, where its
leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee last month.
Those supporting the calls for constitutional change and
free elections saw the violence, unleashed on Wednesday by men
they assume to be secret policemen and ruling party loyalists,
as the desperation of a president who cannot count on his army.
It was a "stupid, desperate move", said Hassan Nafaa, a
political scientist and leading opposition figure. "This will
not put an end to the protests," he said. "This is not the
Tahrir Square revolution, it is a general uprising."
Though less numerous than earlier in the week, there were
demonstrations in Suez and Ismailia, industrial cities where
inflation and unemployment have kindled the sort of dissent that
hit Tunisia and which some believe could ripple in a domino
effect across other autocratic Arab states.
There were also protests in the port city of Alexandria.
Many analysts see the army, which is revered in Egypt in
contrast to other security forces, trying to preserve its own
position by engineering a smooth removal of Mubarak, a former
air force commander.
The army gave protesters heart on Monday by pledging to let
them demonstrate but on Wednesday, troops stood by as Mubarak
supporters charged Tahrir Square on horses and camels, lashing
out at civilians. After dark, several protesters were shot dead.
Oil prices have climbed on fears the unrest could spread to
affect oil giant Saudi Arabia or interfere with oil supplies
from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal.
Brent crude rose above $103 a barrel on Thursday.
(Reporting by Edmund Blair, Samia Nakhoul, Patrick Werr,
Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Alexander Dziadosz,
Yasmine Saleh, Sherine El Madany, Yannis Behrakis, Jonathan
Wright, Andrew Hammond, Tom Perry and Alison Williams in Cairo,
Myra MacDonald in London and Leigh Thomas in Paris; Writing by
Alastair Macdonald and Peter Millership; editing by Mark
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.