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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Steps Down

DEVELOPING: CAIRO -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and handed control to the military, Vice President Omar Suleiman said in an address on state television Friday.

Car horns were heard and Egyptian flags were waving in celebration after Suleiman made the announcement.

"In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency," Suleiman said. He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state."

Nobel Peace laureate and leading Egyptian democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei applauded Mubarak's resignation.

"This is the greatest day of my life," he told the Associated Press. "The country has been liberated after decades of repression."

ElBaradei said he expects a "beautiful" transition of power.

Refresh for further updates. Read the earlier story below:

As protesters filled Tahrir Square in another day of demonstrations, an Israeli military intelligence official told Fox News that President Mubarak has left Cairo via helicopter, and was headed to his residence in Sharem a-Sheikh, a resort town in Egypt.

The development comes a day after the embattled leader told protesters he planned to stay in office until the country’s upcoming elections in September. Mubarak will make an "important" statement later Friday, according to reports on state TV. 

U.S. State Department officials, however, expect Vice President Omar Suleiman to release a statement within hours.

More than 20,000 protesters gathered in front of the president's palace in Heliopolis, just outside Cairo. Army officials offered the protesters food amid a jubilant atmosphere, Fox News in Egypt reports.

Meanwhile, the recently-appointed general secretary of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party said on Friday he had resigned, Reuters reports.

"It's a resignation from the position and from the party," Hossam Badrawi told al-Hayat TV. "The formation of new parties in a new manner that reflects new thinking is better for society now at this stage."

Badawi was appointed on Feb. 5 as secretary-general in a purge of unpopular figures as Mubarak, the official head of the party, endured massive protests against his rule.

Many opponents have made it clear that they want Mubarak and his authoritarian regime to step down immediately.

The statement by the Armed Forces Supreme Council -- its second in two days -- was a blow to many protesters who had called on the military to take action to push out Mubarak after his latest refusal to step down.

But soldiers also took no action to stop demonstrators from massing outside the palace and the headquarters of state television, indicating they were trying to avoid another outbreak of violence.

"We expected the army's decision, we always knew that it was behind Mubarak. But we know it's not going to harm us," Safi Massoud said as she joined thousands of people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square. "We wont leave until we choose a transition president. We don't want Mubarak, we don't want Suleiman."

Anti-government protesters said they were more determined than ever as the uprising entered its 18th day.

The military statement endorsed Mubarak's plan to transfer some powers to Suleiman and promised free and fair presidential elections later this year.

It also promised that the hated emergency laws, in force since Egypt's authoritarian ruler came to office in 1981, would be lifted and gave a somewhat more specific timeframe than Mubarak had offered in his Thursday night speech.

The military implied they would be lifted when protests end, saying it could happen "when the current security situation permits."

It also called for public services to resume and urged "the return of normal life in order to safeguard the achievements of our glorious people."

Undaunted, thousands packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, which has been the center of the uprising since it began on Jan. 25.

A few hundred protesters also assembled outside the gate of Mubarak's Oruba Palace. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of barbed wire, but soldiers were doing nothing to stop demonstrators from joining the rally and chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.