Strikes and protests continue despite army warning

CAIRO airport workers protesting for better pay, textile workers on strike to demand a corruption investigation and residents living by the Suez Canal pressing for the closure of a chemical factory allegedly dumping toxic waste into a lake shows the wave of unrest shaking Egypt has continued.

The protests and strikes defied a call two days ago by the military rulers to halt labour unrest.

The message was seen as a final warning before an outright ban on strikes and protests that could raise the tension level among Egyptians who are already growing more nervous by the day over uncertainties about the future.

Since the military took power from Hosni Mubarak on Friday, Egyptians have been airing grievances over just about everything, from meager wages to police brutality and corruption.

Hundreds of airport employees protested inside the arrivals terminal at Cairo International Airport to press demands for better wages and health coverage. The protest did not disrupt flights.

In the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahallah al-Koubra, workers from Egypt’s largest textile factory went on strike over pay and calls for an investigation into alleged corruption at the factory, according to labour rights activist Mustafa Bassiouni.

In April 2008, Mahallah witnessed the country’s largest protests in decades, when demonstrators took to the streets to press demands for better pay and a check on rising food prices. The youth movement behind that protest was a key player in the 18 days of anti-Mubarak protests that broke out January 25 and eventually forced the longtime authoritarian leader to step down.

In Port Said, about 1,000 people demonstrated to demand that a chemical factory be closed because it was dumping waste in a lake near the city.

Given the instability around this country of 80 million people, authorities decided to put back by another week the reopening of schools and universities, an indication that the country has some way to go before it returns to full normalcy. Schools and universities were starting their midyear break when protests broke out.

The labour strikes, extended bank and stock market closures and an evaporation of tourism, a key source of income for Egypt, are paralysing the economy.

Banks were closed yesterday and today, the last day of the business week in Egypt. There was no word on whether they would reopen on Sunday.

The stock market has been closed for the past three weeks. It lost nearly 17% of its value in two tumultuous sessions in late January before it was ordered shut to halt the slide.

The European Union said yesterday that its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would visit Egypt next week after the Egyptian Foreign Ministry asked the international community for aid. Ashton, already in the region, would be the most senior foreign official to come to Cairo since the ousting of Mubarak on February 11.

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