Opposition: Mubarak must act now or risk 'complete chaos'

Hundreds marched in front of the parliament on Wednesday, demanding that the newly-elected lawmakers resign along with President Hosni Mubarak. (Feb. 9)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 3:15 PM

CAIRO - Opposition groups accused the Egyptian government Wednesday of trying to draw out the process of amending the constitution after Vice President Omar Suleiman said the only way forward was through "dialogue" or a "coup."

The public show of dissent that has roiled Egypt for more than two weeks spread for the first time to the labor sector, with trade unions, railway technicians, oil workers, public transportation employees and some members of state-controlled media striking or joining the protests, according to local news broadcasts.

Despite government efforts to placate them, demonstrators were adamant that President Hosni Mubarak act quickly to end his 30-year autocratic rule. They said they were angered by Suleiman's remarks on Tuesday that the demonstrations must end soon, and by the vice president's claim that Egypt is not ready for democratic rule.

"We believe all [President Hosni Mubarak] needs is seven days maximum" to amend the constitution by setting term limits and relaxing eligibility requirements to run for president, said Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, the secretary general of the Wafd Party, a liberal opposition party involved in negotiations with the government.

"We are faced with two choices," Nour said. "Either to move forward with reform through constitutional legitimate channels, or we're opening the door to complete chaos or a military coup."

But Mubarak's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, flatly rejected demands for the president's immediate departure, telling the PBS NewsHour on Wednesday that such a move would trigger more violence and insisting that Egypt must move "step by step" to a free presidential election.

Tens of thousands of people participated in labor protests throughout the country late Tuesday and Wednesday, said Kamal Abbas, head of the Center for Trade Unions and Labor Services. They demanded pay increases and permanent contracts from both state-run and private companies, he said.

In the industrial city of Mahala, about 24,000 textile factory workers were planning a strike on Thursday, Abbas said. "These are spontaneous," he said.

Protests and clashes were reported in other cities across Egypt. Three people were killed and several were wounded when security forces battled about 3,000 protesters in New Valley, about 300 miles south of Cairo, on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to state television and news agencies. In the southern province of Assiut, about 8,000 protesters blocked the main highway and railroad to Cairo with burning palm trees, then pelted the provincial governor's vehicle with rocks when he tried to talk to them, the Associated Press reported.

For the 16th day, thousands of protesters gathered in central Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand Mubarak's immediate ouster. Demonstrators also gathered outside parliament and the cabinet building for the second consecutive day.

In Tahrir Square, angry protesters on Wednesday kicked out a famous Egyptian singer, Tamer Hosni, who tried to participate in the demonstrations. The military shot in the air to disperse the enraged crowd that gathered around Hosni, who previously had made pro-Mubarak statements. He later wept in a television interview.

The television network al-Jazeera reported that the cabinet building was evacuated because of the protests. A government spokesman said he could not confirm that account but believed the cabinet may be moving their offices because of the demonstrations.

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