The fate of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak will be decided in a matter of hours and most probably he will step down, an Egyptian official told Reuters on Thursday.

The NBC network said the president would step down on Thursday night.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq earlier told Britain's BBC that Mubarak may step down and the situation in the country will be clarified soon, the British broadcaster said.

Egypt's military announced it was taking measures to preserve the nation and aspirations of the people after a meeting of the Higher Army Council.

The statement, from an army spokesman on state television came as pressure mounted on Mubarak, 82, to end his 30-year rule. The president has been buffeted by widespread protests against poverty, repression and corruption in the most populous Arab nation.

The meeting of the Higher Army Council was headed by the defence minister and Mubarak was not present, according to television footage.

The Higher Army Council held a meeting today under Hussein Tantawi the head of the armed forces and minister of defence to discuss the necessary measures and preparations to protect the nation, its gains and the aspirations of the people, the state news agency MENA said.

The council decided to remain in continuous session to discuss measures that can be taken in this regard.

Pro-democracy protesters consolidated a new encampment around Cairo's parliament building and the main focus of the opposition, Tahrir, or Liberation, Square remained crowded.

Organisers were promising another major push on the streets on Friday when protesters said they plan to move on to the state radio and television building in The Day of Martyrs dedicated to the dead which the United Nations says could number 300.

Washington has pressured Mubarak to speed up the pace of reform but has stopped short of demanding the resignation of the president of Egypt which has a peace treaty with Israel and an army which receives about $1.3 billion in U.S. aid a year.