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Labor unrest, protests grow after Egypt's uprising

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) 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.

Egyptian antiquities graduates protest in demand of employment opportunities in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Thousands of Egyptian state employees protested Monday in Cairo to demand better pay and conditions in a wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.  (Khalil Hamra, Associated Press) Egyptian antiquities graduates protest in demand of employment opportunities in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Thousands of Egyptian state employees protested Monday in Cairo to demand better pay and conditions in a wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. (Khalil Hamra, Associated Press)

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.

Public transportation workers protest in demand of salary raises in front of the national TV building, right, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday Feb. 14, 2011. Thousands of Egyptian state employees, protested Monday in Cairo to demand better pay and conditions in a wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. (Khalil Hamra, Associated Press) Public transportation workers protest in demand of salary raises in front of the national TV building, right, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday Feb. 14, 2011. Thousands of Egyptian state employees, protested Monday in Cairo to demand better pay and conditions in a wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. (Khalil Hamra, Associated Press)

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.

Egyptian women walk down a mostly deserted street that is usually frequented by tourists in a Coptic area of old Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's military rulers dissolved parliament Sunday, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters. The ruling military council that took over power from Mubarak last week has said that security and a return to normalcy are among its top priorities. It has called on Egyptians to return to work to save the economy after the 18 days of protests sent hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists fleeing the country in hurried evacuation flights - a major blow to the country's biggest economic sector.  (Tara Todras-Whitehill, Associated Press) Egyptian women walk down a mostly deserted street that is usually frequented by tourists in a Coptic area of old Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's military rulers dissolved parliament Sunday, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters. The ruling military council that took over power from Mubarak last week has said that security and a return to normalcy are among its top priorities. It has called on Egyptians to return to work to save the economy after the 18 days of protests sent hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists fleeing the country in hurried evacuation flights - a major blow to the country's biggest economic sector. (Tara Todras-Whitehill, Associated Press)

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.

"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."

An Egyptian soldier helps a volunteer to paint a fence in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's military rulers dissolved parliament Sunday, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters.  (Tara Todras-Whitehill, Associated Press) An Egyptian soldier helps a volunteer to paint a fence in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's military rulers dissolved parliament Sunday, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters. (Tara Todras-Whitehill, Associated Press)

About 150 graduates of archaeology schools, meanwhile, demonstrated outside the office of Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, seeking jobs and accusing him of corruption.

The protest was deeply personal, with demonstrators saying Hawass, whose "Indiana Jones"-style hat made him an iconic figure the world over, was a "showman" and a self-promoter with little regard for the welfare of thousands of archaeology students unable to find work in their field.

"He doesn't care about us," said 22-year-old Gamal El-Hanafy. "He just cares about propaganda."

Also in Cairo, about 500 employees of the Opera House demanded the dismissal of the facility's chairman, Abdel-Moneim Kamel, alleging he was corrupt.

There were also protests over pay, work conditions or to press demands for losses incurred during the uprising around the country, including in October 6th province, west of Cairo, and the northern town of Banha, where protesters blocked the road to the capital.

An Egyptian man rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to Giza Pyramids after re-opening for tourism, in Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country.  (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press) An Egyptian man rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to Giza Pyramids after re-opening for tourism, in Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country. (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press)

Demonstrations also occurred in Aswan, Egypt's southernmost city; Alexandria on the Mediterranean; and Beni Suef, south of Cairo. In Minya province, south of Cairo, police and soldiers foiled an attempted prison break by inmates, killing four prisoners and wounding 11, according to Egypt's official news agency.

Alaa Ashour, head of the 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 Monday. The carrier generally has about 145 flights per day.

Hundreds of Egyptian tourist guides flash welcoming banners in different languages as a message to tourists during a march in front of the historical site of Giza Pyramids, Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country.  (Amr Nabil, Associated Press) Hundreds of Egyptian tourist guides flash welcoming banners in different languages as a message to tourists during a march in front of the historical site of Giza Pyramids, Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country. (Amr Nabil, Associated Press)

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 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.

Egyptian antiquities graduates protest in demand of employment opportunities in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Thousands of Egyptian state employees protested Monday in Cairo to demand better pay and conditions in a wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.  (Khalil Hamra, Associated Press) Egyptian antiquities graduates protest in demand of employment opportunities in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Thousands of Egyptian state employees protested Monday in Cairo to demand better pay and conditions in a wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. (Khalil Hamra, Associated Press)

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.

Hundreds of Egyptian tourist guides flash welcoming banners in different languages as a message to tourists during a march in front of the historical site of Giza Pyramids, Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country.  (Amr Nabil, Associated Press) Hundreds of Egyptian tourist guides flash welcoming banners in different languages as a message to tourists during a march in front of the historical site of Giza Pyramids, Egypt, Monday, Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country. (Amr Nabil, Associated Press)

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.

An Egyptian rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to the Giza Pyramids after opening for tourism, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country.  (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press) An Egyptian rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to the Giza Pyramids after opening for tourism, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country. (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press)

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.

An Egyptian flags vender walks down a traffic line, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country.  (Amr Nabil, Associated Press) An Egyptian flags vender walks down a traffic line, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country. (Amr Nabil, Associated Press)

AP correspondents Karin Laub, Sarah El Deeb and Christopher Torchia contributed to this report.

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