Monday, February 14, 2011

[olympiaworkers] Egyptian labor unrest grows after uprising

By TAREK EL-TABLAWY and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Feb 14, 2011

CAIRO – Egypt's military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests
Monday as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police
and transport workers, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave
of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni
Mubarak's regime.

The statement by the ruling military council that took power from Mubarak
appeared to be a final warning to protest organizers in labor and
professional unions before the army intervenes and imposes an outright ban
on gatherings, strikes and sit-ins.

Soldiers cleared out almost all the remaining demonstrators from Cairo's
Tahrir Square, the giant traffic circle that was turned into a protest
camp headquarters for the 18-day revolt. During more than two weeks of
round-the-clock demonstrations at the square, protesters set up tents,
brought in blankets, operated medical clinics and festooned the entire
plaza with giant banners demanding removal of the regime.

At the height of the uprising, hundreds of thousands packed the downtown

Several huge trucks piled high with protesters' blankets left the square
Tuesday. All the tents were gone, as were other signs of permanent camps.
By early afternoon, a few dozen stalwarts remained, standing in one corner
of the square and yelling for the release of political prisoners.

The remaining protesters say they won't leave until all those detained
during the revolt are released.

Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, said Mubarak, 82,
was "possibly in somewhat of bad health," providing the first word about
him since being ousted Friday.

Speaking Monday on NBC's "Today" show, the envoy said he had received the
information about Mubarak but could not be more specific. Two Cairo
newspapers said Mubarak was refusing to take medication, depressed and
repeatedly passing out at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm
el-Sheikh. There was no immediate confirmation of the reports.

Click image to see photos of celebrations in Egypt

Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Mubarak had surgery in Germany last year to remove his gallbladder.

The latest communique by the ruling military council was read on state
television by a military spokesman. It said Egypt needed a quieter climate
so the military can run the nation's affairs at this "critical stage" and
eventually hand over the reins of power to an elected and civilian

The statement also warned that strikes and protests hurt the country's
security and economy and gave a chance to what it called "irresponsible
parties" to commit "illegal acts." It did not elaborate.

Amid the efforts to build a new system, Egypt's upheaval has splintered
into a host of smaller grievances, the inevitable outcome of emboldened
citizens feeling free to speak up, most of them for the first time.

Outside the Nile-side TV and state radio building, hundreds of public
transportation workers demonstrated to demand better pay. Several hundred
protesters from the state Youth and Sports Organization also protested
Monday with similar demands in Tahrir after the military had moved the
long-term protesters out.

Across the Nile River in the Giza district, hundreds of ambulance drivers
demonstrated, also to demand better pay and permanent jobs. They parked at
least 70 ambulances on a roadside along the river, but did not block the
main road.

In downtown Cairo, hundreds of police demonstrated for a second day for
better pay. They also want to clear their reputation, further tarnished by
the deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. Some carried
portraits of policemen killed in the clashes.

"These are victims of the regime too," declared one placard.

"It's hard for us to go back to work because people hate us," said one
protester, a captain who was among the demonstrators. "An official funeral
must be held for our martyrs."

Several hundred unemployed archaeology graduates demonstrated outside the
Supreme Council for Antiquities in the upscale district of Zamalek,
demanding jobs.

Alaa Ashour, head of the country's national carrier, EgyptAir, was removed
by the civil aviation minister after workers went on strike at Cairo
International Airport. Ashour, also described by airport officials as
Mubarak's pilot on international trips, was removed late Sunday after
workers called for more perks and pay.

Even so, the protests continued Monday in other subsidiaries of EgyptAir's
parent company, as well as workers at companies that provide support
services to the airline.

Reflecting the continuing downturn in travel from Egypt, EgyptAir said it
had organized only 31 international flights and 12 domestic flights for
Monday. The carrier generally has about 145 scheduled flights per day.

The Central Bank of Egypt ordered banks across the country closed
following a strike by employees of the National Bank, the largest state
bank, and several other financial institutions. Tuesday is a national
holiday in Egypt to mark the birth of Islam's 7th century Prophet
Muhammad. The banks are scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

The stock market, however, will stay closed Wednesday and Thursday, the
final weekday in Egypt. A previous announcement had said it would reopen
Wednesday, ending a three-week closure that began after the market lost
almost 17 percent of its value in two days of trading in late January.

The ruling military council that took over power from Mubarak on Friday
has said that security and a return to normal are among its top
priorities. It has urged Egyptians to return to work to save the economy
after the 18 days of protests sent hundreds of thousands of foreign
tourists fleeing in hurried evacuation flights — a major blow to the
country's biggest economic sector.

Monday's protests came a day after the ruling military rulers took
sweeping action to dismantle Mubarak's autocratic legacy, dissolving
parliament, suspending the constitution and promising elections.

The generals also met Sunday with representatives of the broad-based youth
movement that brought down the government. Prominent activist Wael Ghonim
posted on a Facebook page he manages notes from the meeting between
members of the military council and youth representatives, which he
described as encouraging.

The military defended the caretaker government led by Prime Minister Ahmed
Shafiq and stocked with Mubarak loyalists as necessary for now in the
interests of stability but pledged to change it soon, according to Ghonim
and another protester, Amr Salama.

"They said they will go after corrupt people no matter what their position
current or previous," the posted statement added. Amendments to the
much-reviled constitution will be prepared by an independent committee in
the next 10 days and then presented for approval in a popular referendum
in two months, they said.

The military also encouraged the youth to consider forming political
parties — something very difficult to do under the old system — and
pledged to meet with them regularly.

"We felt a sincere desire to protect the gains of the revolution and an
unprecedented respect for the right of young Egyptians to express their
opinions," Ghonim said.

On Monday, representatives of the youth groups that organized the protests
said they wanted Shafiq's government replaced by a cabinet of technocrats
and that Mubarak's National Democratic Party be dissolved.

The party has dominated political life in Egypt for three decades and is
widely thought to have been behind much of the corruption that protesters
have complained about. The party won all but a small fraction of
parliament's 518-seat chamber in elections held in November and December
that were marred by widespread fraud blamed on the party and its allies in
the police and civil service.

The wave of post-Mubarak strikes and protests spread to the community of
refugees too.

Several thousand refugees from East African countries, including Ethiopia,
Sudan and Somalia, gathered outside the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, on the
outskirts of Cairo, demanding to be allowed to leave Egypt to resettle
elsewhere. Several helmeted riot police officers blocked the entrance, as
many in the crowd tried to get into the building. They banged on the gates
and threatened to storm the building before they calmed down and
representatives went inside to meet with UNHCR officials, who gave them
assistance with their daily hardships. There were no clashes and the
numbers dwindled to a few hundred by evening.

The refugees complained they have been stuck in Egypt for several years,
some as long as a decade. They said the U.N. has made no effort to move
them elsewhere, and that they live in difficult conditions in Egypt. The
refugees said that with the country in turmoil, there is even greater
urgency to move them.


Associated Press correspondents Karin Laub and Sarah El Deeb contributed
to this report.

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