CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian military called Wednesday for an end to more than a week of demonstrations demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately after nearly 30 years in power.
Mubarak's embattled regime and the powerful military appeared to be making a unified push to end a street movement to drive out the 82-year-old leader.
The declaration was a clear shift in the stand of the army, which gave a tacit endorsement to the movement on Monday by saying it would not use force against protesters, and that they had legitimate demands.
The emboldened protesters brought more than 250,000 people into Cairo's main square Tuesday to demand Mubarak leave within days. The president responded with a defiant statement pledging to finish out his term and serve seven more months in office.
The army's message to the demonstrators Wednesday had a conciliatory tone, appealing to young protesters to stand down "out of love for Egypt."
"You have started coming out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of returning normal life to Egypt," military spokesman Ismail Etman said in an address on state television. "Your message has arrived, your demands have become known."
Immediately after his statement, state television ran a scrolling message reading: "The armed forces call on the protesters to go home for the sake of bringing back stability."
Internet service also began returning to Egypt after days of an unprecedented cutoff by the government, and state TV said authorities were easing a nighttime curfew, which now runs from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. instead of 3 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Several thousand pro-Mubarak demonstrators were rallying in support of him in Cairo.
The movement against Mubarak is fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant.
After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by unrest in Tunisia took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable series of protests across this nation of 80 million.
Mubarak address to the nation around 11 p.m. Tuesday said he would serve out the last months of his term and "die on Egyptian soil." He promised not to seek re-election, but that did not calm public fury as clashes erupted in at least one city between his opponents and supporters.
Michael Weissenstein and Diaa Hadid contributed to this report.