An Egyptian flag is carried through the crowd in the opposition stronghold in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 8, 2011. REUTERS

Egyptians staged one of their biggest protests yet Tuesday demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down now, their wrath undiminished by the vice president's announcement of a plan to transfer power.

With the government refusing to budge on the demonstrators' main demands, Vice President Omar Suleiman promised no reprisals against the protesters for their campaign now entering a third week to eject Mubarak after 30 years in office.

Protesters on Cairo's central Tahrir square accused the government of merely playing for time, and swore they would not give up until the current half revolution was complete.

Tens of thousands poured into the square to join those already camped there, filling it completely for the third time since the demonstrations began on January 25. Many said it was their first time taking part.

I came here for the first time today because this cabinet is a failure, Mubarak is still meeting the same ugly faces, said Afaf Naged, 71, a former member of the board of directors of the state-owned National Bank of Egypt. He can't believe it is over. He is a very stubborn man.

Suleiman, a long-time intelligence chief, has led talks this week with opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood -- Mubarak's sworn enemies.

In comments broadcast on state television, he said: A clear road map has been put in place with a set timetable to realise the peaceful and organised transfer of power.

So far the government has conceded little ground in the talks. The 82-year-old president, who has promised to stand down when his term expires in September, appears to be weathering the storm engulfing Egypt for the moment at least.

Talks between the government and opposition factions took place Sunday under the gaze of a giant portrait of Mubarak.

Many in a country where about 40 percent of people live on less than $2 a day are desperate to return to work and normal life, even some of those wanting to oust Mubarak.

For Cairo cab driver Mustafa Fikri, the last thing on his mind was protesting against Mubarak's rule. He couldn't even be at his wife's hospital bedside when she gave birth to their first son Monday, as he was working.

Fikri cried for joy but still could not call it a day and head to the hospital. If I don't work my family will starve. There isn't any money left in the house.

Some normality is returning to Cairo. Traffic was bumper-to- bumper in the city centre Tuesday and queues quickly built up at banks, which have so far opened only for restricted hours.


But people on Tahrir Square were sceptical about the talks and suspicious of Mubarak's motives. Youssef Hussein, a 52-year-old tourist driver from Aswan, held up a sign saying: Dialogue prolongs the life of the regime and gives it the kiss of life. No dialogue until Mubarak leaves.

This dialogue is just on paper, it is just political manoeuvring to gain time, said Sayed Hagaz from the Nile Delta.

Ayman Farag, a Cairo lawyer, said the protesters' work was far from complete. What has happened so far is only half a revolution and I hope it will continue to the end, he said.

Suleiman promised that the harassment of protesters would end. The president emphasised that Egypt's youth deserve the appreciation of the nation and issued a directive to prevent them being pursued, harassed or having their right to freedom of expression taken away, he said.

Tuesday's rally and another called for Friday are tests of the protesters' ability to maintain pressure on Mubarak.

Naged, the bank board member, said she had been inspired to join the protests by another business figure, Google Inc executive Wael Ghonim, who was freed Monday after two weeks in which he said state security kept him blindfolded.

Activists say the Ghonim was behind a Facebook group that helped to inspire the protests.

I am not a symbol or a hero or anything like that, but what happened to me is a crime, he told private Egyptian station Dream TV after his release. We have to tear down this system based on not being able to speak out.

Google had launched a service to help Egyptians circumvent government Internet restrictions to use the social network Twitter by dialling a telephone number and leaving a voice mail that would then be sent on the online service.

Opposition figures have reported little progress in the talks with the government. The official news agency said Mubarak issued a decree ordering the establishment of a committee to study and propose legal and constitutional amendments, which he has promised as part of his concessions.

The Muslim Brotherhood, by far the best-organised opposition group, said Monday it could quit negotiations if protesters' demands were not met, including the immediate exit of Mubarak.

The United States, adopting a cautious approach, has urged all sides to allow time for an orderly transition to a new political order in Egypt, for decades a strategic ally.