Protesters enraged by President Hosni Mubarak’s latest refusal to step down began flooded into central Cairo on Friday, vowing massive demonstrations – possibly including a march on the presidential palace. Opposition leaders warned that Egypt could explode in violence as their plea for the military to intervene was bluntly rejected.

Mubarak gave most of his powers to his vice president but refused to resign or leave the country late Thursday, hours after the military made moves that had all the markings of a coup.

The powerful military’s official and eagerly anticipated response came Friday morning, with a statement essentially backing Mubarak’s plan to stand down in the autumn — a snub of the protesters’ primary demand that he leave office immediately.

The military’s Supreme Council convened a meeting early Friday morning and made its statement several hours later, vowing to ensure free and fair elections, but not until September. The council backed Mubarak’s move to transfer most of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman, viewed by the protesters as an extension of the president himself.

The military’s stance was likely to further enrage the gathering masses in Tahrir Square.

“We are waiting for a strong reaction from the army to Mubarak’s speech,” Mohammed Mustapha, a protest spokesman, said before the army’s stance was made clear. He said “huge numbers” of protesters were expected Friday and that many wanted to march on the Oruba palace, the main presidential palace several miles away from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where the protests have been concentrated.

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