CAIRO — Thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and bank workers, protested on Monday demanding better pay, in a growing wave of labor unrest rekindled by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak's regime. Egypt's military rulers asked for an end to the protests in what could be a final warning before an outright ban.
The military said it needed calm to implement what it promises will be an eventual handover to civilian rule under a new, more democratic system. It has set a swift timetable, saying it aims to have constitutional amendments drawn up within 10 days and a referendum to approve them within two months ahead of elections for a new parliament and ultimately a new civilian government, according to youth activists who met two of the top generals.
The coalition of young activists who organized the unprecedented protest movement pressured the military for new steps to ensure the autocratic system that has pervaded Egypt for the past 30 years is dismantled. Protesters welcomed the military's takeover after Mubarak's resignation, but many remain wary of its ultimate intentions.
In a list of demands Monday, they called for the dissolving of Mubarak's National Democratic Party and for the creation of a Cabinet of technocrats within 30 days. They want it to replace the current caretaker government, appointed by Mubarak after the protests erupted Jan. 25.
"It is unacceptable that the same government which caused this revolution with its corrupt ways oversees the transitional period," said Ziad al-Oleimi, a member of the coalition.
A number of youth organizers met Sunday with two generals from the Armed Forces Supreme Council, now the country's official ruler. They called the meeting positive and were further encouraged by the military's dissolving of parliament and suspending of the constitution, two of their top demands. The activists' coalition has called off its protests centered at Tahrir Square for now as a gesture, and their camp has been cleared away by soldiers.
The military's patience with the strikes, which are independent of the activists, may be running out as it struggles to restore stability and get Egypt's economy functioning again, after being hit heavily by three weeks of turmoil.
Egypt's dusty streets were transformed Monday into fertile ground for anyone with a grievance against anything.
Employees of the National Bank of Egypt, the largest government-owned bank, went on strike, a day after hundreds of them massed outside its headquarters.
The strike there and at other government banks forced the Central Banks to order all banks closed Monday, with the next day a religious holiday. It also forced Egypt's stock exchange to delay its reopening until next week at the earliest — it had been due to resume operations Wednesday after a nearly three-week halt.
"It's part of the revolution," NBE chairman Tarek Amer said of the strike. "They believe that it's an opportunity — if they had any complaints and demands — and that there's a higher probability of getting them answered." The strike was by the bank's many temporary workers demanding permanent contracts.
Outside the Nile-side TV and state radio building, hundreds of public transport workers demanded better pay.
Several hundred also protested outside the state-run Trade and Workers Federation demanding the dissolving of its board, which they accuse of corruption. They traded volleys of bottles, stones and bricks with board supporters inside, smashing windows, until soldiers separated the two sides.
Hundreds of ambulance drivers demanding better pay lined up their vehicles on a road along the Nile in the capital's Giza district. Workers at a key Cairo traffic tunnel threatened to shut down the route if their salaries weren't raised.
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