Hosni Mubarak on 11 February stepped down as president of Egypt, handing power to the country’s military high command.

Announcing Mubarak’s resignation on state TV, Vice-President Omar Suleiman said the president had handed power to the army and that the high command of the armed forces had taken over. The military high command is headed by Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

“President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said.

Later an army officer read out a statement paying tribute to Mr Mubarak for “what he has given” to Egypt, but acknowledging popular power. “There is no legitimacy other than that of the people,” the statement said.

Mubarak’s resignation comes after weeks of protest in Cairo and other cities across Egypt. But the immediate cause was an outpouring of popular anger following an address by Mubarak on 10 February when he had been expected to announce his resignation, but stopped short of stepping down, instead transferring most powers to Suleiman. In Cairo on 11 February, thousands of people gathered outside the presidential palace, in Tahrir Square and at state TV.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 30 years.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said: “This is the greatest day of my life. You cannot comprehend the amount of joy and happiness of every Egyptian at the restoration of our humanity and our freedom.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s banned Islamist opposition movement, paid tribute to the army for keeping its promises. “I salute the Egyptian people and the martyrs. This is the day of victory for the Egyptian people. The main goal of the revolution has been achieved,” said the Brotherhood’s former parliamentary leader, Mohamed el-Katatni.

The timing of the announcement came as a surprise and many observers are speculating that it is the result of a military coup. Under the terms of Egypt’s constitution it should be the speaker of parliament who takes over, not the army leadership.

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister, said events in Egypt presented an opportunity to build a national consensus.

Meanwhile, Iran described the recent events as a “great victory”.

A senior Israeli official expressed the hope that Mr Mubarak’s departure would “bring no change to its peaceful relations with Cairo”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he respected the “difficult decision” taken in the people’s interests and called for an “orderly and peaceful transition”.

Elsewhere, European Union leaders reacted positively to the news of Mr Mubarak’s resignation.

“It is important now that the dialogue is accelerated leading to a broad-based government, which will respect the aspirations of, and deliver stability for, the Egyptian people,” said EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton.

US Vice-President Joe Biden said Egypt had reached a pivotal moment in history.

The anti-government protests that began on 25 January were triggered by widespread unrest in Egypt over unemployment, poverty and corruption.

They followed a popular uprising in Tunisia, which brought about the downfall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.