CAIRO – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and handed control of the country to the military, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Friday in an address on state television.
The announcement touched off a wave of jubilation throughout Cairo's Tehrir Square, where tens of thousands of anti-government protesters had gathered demanding Mubarak's ouster hours after he failed to announce his resignation in an address on Thursday.
"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."
Hours later, President Obama said "Egypt will never be the same."
"There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place," the president said in Washington. "This is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken."
Egyptian protesters made it clear that "nothing less than democracy will carry the day," said Obama, adding that Mubarak's resignation is the beginning of the transition to democracy in Egypt.
Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his authorities to Suleiman while keeping his title. But an explosion of protests Friday rejecting the move appeared to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely. Hundreds of thousands marched throughout the day in cities across the country as soldiers stood by, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state TV building.
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.
Egypt's military says it will not act as a substitute for a "legitimate" government after Mubarak's resignation.
A military spokesman, in a brief televised statement, said the armed forces would later announce measures and arrangements to introduce the changes Egyptians want. He also praised Mubarak for his contribution to the nation.
Outside Mubarak's Oruba Palace in northern Cairo, women on balconies ululated with the joyous tongue-trilling used to mark weddings and births.
"Finally we are free," said Safwan Abo Stat, a 60-year-old in the crowd of protesters at the palace. "From now on anyone who is going to rule will know that these people are great."
Another, Mohammed el-Masry, weeping with joy, said he had spent the past two weeks in Tahrir before marching to the palace Friday. He was now headed back to the square to join his ecstatic colleagues.
"We made it," he gasped.
Earlier Friday, the Armed Forces Supreme Council -- a body of top generals -- vowed to guide the country to greater democracy.
In a statement hours before Suleiman's announcement, the council said it was committed "to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people and endeavor for their implementation within a defined timetable ... until achieving a peaceful transition all through a democratic society aspired by the people."
Abdel-Rahman Samir, one of the youth organizers of the protests, said the protest movement would now open negotiations with the military over democratic reform but vowed protests would continue to ensure change is carried out.
"We still don't have any guarantees yet -- if we end the whole situation now the it's like we haven't done anything," he said. "So we need to keep sitting in Tahrir until we get all our demands."
But, he added, "I feel fantastic. ... I feel like we have worked so hard, we planted a seed for a year and a half and now we are now finally sowing the fruits."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.