Mubarak holds meeting with economy team

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Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak held talks with his economy team today as thousands of anti-government protesters remained camped out on Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The political crisis that engulfed the country since January 25 has cost Egypt an estimated 3.1 billion (£1.9 billion), with the ensuing violence driving a nation once seen as a pillar of stability to the brink of chaos.

The state MENA news agency said Mr Mubarak's meetings took place this morning in the presidential palace in Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb miles away from the events in the city centre.

The report said the oil minister, the financial minister, the Central Bank governor and other top economy officials were present.

Meanwhile, protest leaders said they have met with Egypt's prime minister to discuss ways to ease Mr Mubarak out of office so negotiations can begin on the nation's future.

Abdel-Rahman Youssef, a youth activist, said he and other protest figures met with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq late on Friday.

He said the meeting dealt only with ways to arrange Mr Mubarak's departure and that protests will continue until that happens.

Under one proposal, Mr Mubarak would deputise vice president Omar Suleiman with his powers and step down "in some way, either in a real departure or a political one," Mr Youssef said.

On Friday, a rally of nearly 100,000 anti-government protesters failed to force the ruler of 30 years to relinquish power despite pressure internationally for a swift exit to allow for a path toward democracy.

The mood among the crowd of several thousand in Tahrir Square was calm, in a marked contrast to clashes earlier in the week between anti-government protesters and Mubarak supporters.

Egyptian troops, deployed on the square's periphery, are controlling access and checking IDs of those entering. Security forces also tried to clear some of the entrance roads, remove charred hulks of cars and other debris, remnants of the pitched street battles earlier in the week.

Opposition leaders have said the protests would not end until Mr Mubarak leaves office. In an apparent attempt to pace themselves, protest leaders have said the main rallies in Tahrir Square would take place on Tuesdays and Fridays.