CAIRO — Egypt’s military promised Monday not to fire on any peaceful protests and recognized ‘‘the legitimacy of the people’s demands,’’ a sign army support for President Hosni Mubarak may be unraveling. Protesters planned a major escalation, calling for a million people to take to the streets to push Mubarak out of power.
More than 10,000 people beat drums, played music and chanted slogans in Tahrir Square, which has become ground zero of seven days of protests demanding the ouster of the 82-year-old president who has ruled with an authoritarian hand for nearly three decades.
With the organizers’ calling for a march by one million people Tuesday, the vibe in the sprawling plaza — whose name in Arabic means ‘‘Liberation’’ — was intensifying with the feeling that the upheaval was nearing a decisive point. ‘‘He only needs a push,’’ was one of the most frequent chants, and one leaflet circulated by some protesters said it was time for the military to choose between Mubarak and the people.
The latest gesture by Mubarak aimed at defusing the crisis fell flat. His top ally, the United States, roundly rejected his announcement of a new government Monday that dropped his interior minister, who heads police forces and was widely denounced by the protesters. The crowds in the streets were equally unimpressed.
‘‘It’s almost the same government, as if we are not here, as if we are sheep,’’ sneered one protester, Khaled Bassyouny, a 30-year-old Internet entrepreneur. He said it was time to escalate the marches. ‘‘It has to burn. It has to become ugly. We have to take it to the presidential palace.’’
Another concession came later Monday night, when Vice President Omar Suleiman — who was appointed by Mubarak only two days earlier — went on state TV to announce that the president had tasked him to immediately begin dialogue with ‘‘political forces’’ for constitutional and legislative reforms.
Suleiman, a longtime Mubarak confidant, did not say what the changes would entail or which groups the government would speak with. Opposition forces have long demanded a lifting of strict restrictions on who is eligible to run for president to allow a real challenge to the ruling party, as well as measures to ensure elections are fair. A presidential election is scheduled for September.
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed the naming of the new government, saying the situation in Egypt calls for action, not appointments.
The State Department said Monday that a retired senior diplomat — former ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner — was now on the ground in Cairo and will meet Egyptian officials to urge them to embrace broad economic and political changes that can pave the way for free and fair elections.
The military statement, aired on state TV, was the strongest sign yet that the army was willing to let the protests continue and grow.