Egypt's army demands end to strikes; opposition vows to push for change

Ruling council says it will run the country for six months or until elections are held; tensions flare as military evicts protesters in Tahrir Square.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 14, 2011; 2:47 PM

CAIRO - Egypt's military called Monday for an end to the strikes and protests that have practically paralyzed the country since late last month, but thousands of police and other state employees took to the streets to demand better pay and working conditions, and pro-democracy leaders vowed to keep demonstrating if their demands for change are not met.

Even as the army cleared Cairo's Tahrir Square of most of the protesters whose peaceful uprising ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, the labor unrest triggered by the popular revolt showed no sign of abating. In addition to police, state employees ranging from ambulance drivers to transport workers took part in Monday's demonstrations.

Leaders of the pro-democracy movement, for their part, were planning a massive "victory march" Friday to celebrate their revolution and maintain pressure for fundamental change. According to opposition activists, military leaders indicated that they were willing to share power with civilians and amend the constitution by plebiscite within a couple of months.

In addition, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq informed him that the cabinet would be reshuffled in the coming week to bring in opposition figures, Reuters news agency reported.

Meanwhile, however, the military rulers who took over Friday from Mubarak called on state television for an end to the demonstrations and appeared poised to ban all gatherings, strikes and sit-ins in an effort to return to normalcy.

In its latest communique, the military leadership said that "these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results," harming economic production and security.

A few dozen demonstrators nevertheless remained in Tahrir Square demanding the release of political prisoners. And labor and professional unions and public sector employees seemed determined to align themselves with the mass democracy movement and distance themselves from the government that used to employ them.

Mubarak's whereabouts remained uncertain, and there were reports that he was in poor health.

His ouster, after an massive, 18-day outpouring of public opposition, continued to reverberate throughout the Muslim world, with anti-government demonstrations underway Monday in Tehran, Yemen and Bahrain. In the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad dissolved his cabinet as a step toward preparing for general elections later this year.

The generals who took power Friday imposed martial law on Sunday, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution. Many of the protesters who helped topple Mubarak said the military's moves were necessary to excise a rotten form of government.

In a written communique, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, said the military rule was temporary and would last until elections are held, possibly as soon as six months from now. A new set of guiding laws will be drafted by an appointed committee and made subject to a referendum, the military chiefs said.

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