| Updated at: 1356 PST, Saturday, February 12, 2011|
PARIS: World leaders hailed the toppling of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as a historic victory for people power and democracy while China and Russia called for stability on Saturday.
Messages of congratulation to the Egyptian people flooded in as Mubarak handed over power to senior army officers after 18 days of mounting protests against his autocratic 30-year rule.
US President Barack Obama said the people of Egypt had spoken and would settle for nothing less than "genuine democracy."
The armed forces would now have to ensure a political transition that was "credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people," Obama said, warning of "difficult days ahead."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon praised Mubarak for bowing to the will of the people and taking a "difficult decision, taken in the wider interests of the Egyptian people."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called for "fundamental reform that will ensure the opportunity and freedoms that ordinary Egyptians have been calling for."
China, in contrast, said it hoped to see a swift return of "stability and public order," with the English-language China Daily noting that the anti-Mubarak protests had caused "havoc."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also called for stability.
"We hope that the latest events will help the restoration of stability and ensuring the normal functioning of all the structures of the authorities."
For Israel, Egypt was a key peace partner, and a government official said: "We hope that the transition to democracy, for Egypt and for its neighbours, will be done smoothly."
The official stressed the need to preserve the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, signed two years before Mubarak came to power.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expected Egypt "to continue to keep the peace in the Middle East, in that the agreements made with Israel are respected and Israel's security is guaranteed."
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose resource-poor country is a major donor to Egypt, said: "I hope a new government will be born democratically.
"I want Egypt to continue playing a constructive role in the Middle East."
European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso chief saluted "the courage of the Egyptian people," in a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU president Herman Van Rompuy.
"We call on (the) Army to continue to act responsibly and to ensure that the democratic change takes place in a peaceful manner," they said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy saluted Mubarak's "courageous and necessary" decision to step down, adding: "France calls on all Egyptians to continue their march towards liberty."
British Prime Minister David Cameron called for "a move to civilian and democratic rule as part of this important transition to an open, democratic and free Egypt."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed the need for free and fair elections and respect for human rights including minorities.
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma praised Mubarak for "having thought like a leader, to place the interests of Egypt above his own."
A wave of euphoria swept Arab cities as news spread of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's departure, with jubilant crowds taking to the streets from Gaza to Beirut in celebration.
From the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri praised the "the start of the victory of the Egyptian revolution" as celebrations erupted across the territory.
Qatar called the power change a "positive and important step towards achieving the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy, reform, and a decent life."
Iran, noting that its own 1979 overthrow of the shah also occured on Feb 11, said Egyptian protesters achieved a "great victory."
"The conquest by the will of the great Egyptian nation over the resistance and persistence of officials who were dependent on the world powers is a great victory," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television.
In Yemen, thousands of people took to the streets. Some chanted: "Yesterday Tunisia, today Egypt, and tomorrow Yemenis will break their chains."
In Algeria Friday, police moved in to break up celebrations outside the Algiers offices of an opposition party, with Algerian activists planning to defy a ban on marches in the capital Saturday. (AFP)