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Labor unrest, protests grow after Egypt's uprising

By Tarek El-tablawy

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 14 2011 1:40 p.m. MST

A man is taken away after he fainted during a scuffle with policemen that were protesting in Tahrir Saquare in Cairo, Egypt, Monday Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests Monday as thousands of state employees, including police, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak's regime

Hussein Malla, Associated Press

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 became a protest camp headquarters for the 18-day revolt. During more than two weeks of round-the-clock demonstrations, 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 had packed the downtown crossroads.

Several huge trucks piled high with protesters' blankets left the square. 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 the 82-year-old Mubarak 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.

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 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 administration.

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 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 gathered, also to demand better pay and permanent jobs. They parked at least 70 ambulances along the river, but did not block the main road.

In downtown, 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.

The Interior Ministry says 33 policemen were killed and 1,109 wounded in the clashes. Several hundred protesters are thought to have been killed, but no exact figures are available.

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