Egypt crisis: Protests switch to demands on pay

  • Published

Fresh protests and strikes have flared in Egypt as demonstrators demand better pay and conditions from the country's new military rulers.

Bank, transport and tourism workers all demonstrated in Cairo after 18 days of protests succeeded in removing President Hosni Mubarak.

In a TV statement, the military urged all Egyptians to go back to work.

Earlier, Cairo's Tahrir Square was cleared of protesters but hundreds soon returned, joined by disgruntled police.

Hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothes police marched to Tahrir Square, shouting: "We and the people are one" and vowing to "honour the martyrs of the revolution".

They said they had been forced to act against their wishes in using force on protesters early in the anti-government demonstrations.

But they are detested by many ordinary Egyptians, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo, and repairing relations will take time and hard work.

Most of the thousands of protesters in the square had left on Sunday after welcoming the announcement by the new ruling military council that it would dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution.

Meanwhile, opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei told Arabic TV network al-Jazeera that Egypt's next president should be in his 40s or 50s, Reuters reported.

Appearing to rule himself out of a race for the presidency, the 68-year-old was quoted as saying: "My only goal is to see my country transition from the path of oppressive dictatorship to a civilised ... and democratic state."

'Honour the martyrs'

As the day unfolded, strikes and protests were held outside a string of government offices and at workplaces, eventually prompting a televised statement from Egypt's military rulers.

The best guarantee of a smooth transition to civilian rule would be if all Egyptians went back to work, the military said.

Strikes and disputes would "damage the security of the country", the army's ruling high council said.

Separately, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had agreed to a request from Egypt to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials. A French government spokesman said Paris had received similar requests - although not for the assets of Hosni Mubarak himself.

The former president was reported to be in poor health in his Red Sea residence at Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian ambassador to the US told American TV network NBC.

Our correspondent in Cairo says there now appears to be a whole series of mini-revolutions going on in the wake of Mr Mubarak's ousting.

The military had to instruct banks to remain closed on Monday following the strike threats. The Egyptian stock exchange has also postponed its reopening until Sunday at the earliest.

In protests on Monday:

  • Hundreds of bank employees protested outside a branch of the Bank of Alexandria in central Cairo, calling for managers to resign
  • Public transport workers took part in a demonstration outside the state TV and radio building, calling for better pay
  • Ambulance drivers parked 70 of their emergency vehicles along a riverside road in a pay protest
  • Police also protested, massing outside the interior ministry complaining about their pay and working conditions
  • Near the Great Pyramids, some 150 tourism industry workers also demanded higher wages

Many employees blame bosses for what they consider to be huge earnings gaps in companies.

The tourism sector has been badly hit by the anti-government demonstrations as have state-owned firms across Egypt in the postal, media, textile and steel industries.

There are reports the military is planning to prevent meetings by labour unions or professional organisations, effectively banning strikes.

'Sincere desire'

Egypt's higher military council has said it intends to suspend the constitution and set up a committee to draft a new one, which would then be put to a popular referendum.

Key activist Wael Ghonim added that there had been an encouraging meeting between the military and youth representatives on Sunday and spoke of a "sincere desire to protect the gains of the revolution".

During the meeting, Mr Ghonim reported on a Facebook page, the military agreed to draft constitutional changes within 10 days and hold the referendum within two months.

"[The military] said they will go after corrupt people no matter what their position current or previous," Mr Ghonim reported.

During the transition the cabinet appointed by Mr Mubarak last month will go on governing, submitting legislation to the army chiefs for approval.

The opposition's Ayman Nour has described the military leadership's steps as a "victory for the revolution".