Islamists, Egypt leader meet

CAIRO—The banned Muslim Brotherhood held landmark talks Sunday with Egypt's vice president, but the two sides remained at apparent loggerheads over the opposition's principal demand: that President Hosni Mubarak step aside now.

The government offered up new concessions that would have constituted a bonanza for the opposition only weeks ago. But demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square shrugged off the steps, saying nothing less than Mubarak's immediate departure would satisfy.

Protesters by the thousands continued their round-the-clock occupation of the plaza. However, revolutionary fervor was increasingly at odds with the wishes of many Egyptians to resume normal routines.

Banks, shops and other businesses reopened on Sunday, the first day of the Egyptian workweek. Traffic surged on previously empty roadways.

In talks with some opposition groups, Vice President Omar Suleiman dangled the possibility of abolishing Egypt's state of emergency, a loathed 30-year-old decree that gives sweeping powers to the establishment.

Suleiman also offered what amounted to an amnesty for nonviolent protesters, more press freedoms, redress for those seized by the secret police, and the creation of a broadly representative committee to work on constitutional reforms. But most in the square expressed skepticism that there would be follow-through on such pledges.

In an apparent bid to halt the protests, Mubarak recently promised that neither he nor his son Gamal would run in presidential elections scheduled for September. He shook up his Cabinet, and the leadership of the ruling party, including his son, resigned.

But the longtime leader has dug in heels on the protesters' demand that he relinquish office immediately, saying his abrupt departure would trigger chaos and pave the way for a takeover by Islamists.

In the communique from Sunday's talks, endorsed by the opposition groups taking part, Suleiman promised a full investigation of the abrupt pullback of police in the cities nine days ago—a move that triggered a wave of looting—and also a probe of last week's violent and seemingly carefully choreographed attack on the square by groups supporting the regime.

Despite the talks' tepid reception by opposition forces, the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the influential but long-repressed Islamist group, was still seen as significant. However, the group is extremely wary of appearing co-opted by the government.

The talks drew criticism from one key opposition leader, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who said Sunday that he will not negotiate with the Egyptian government until Mubarak steps down.

"The whole idea was to move that regime to a new regime," ElBaradei said on CNN. "Mubarak continues to be a symbol of that old regime, and I will not give any legitimacy to that existing regime."