Mubarak seeks support with pay rise for State employees

Egypt's embattled government tried to buy its way back into favour with a 15% pay rise for State employees today.

Egypt's embattled government tried to buy its way back into favour with a 15% pay rise for State employees today.

The move was seen as an attempt to shore up its base and defuse popular anger amid ongoing protests demanding president Hosni Mubarak's removal.

The pay decision followed earlier promises to investigate election fraud and official corruption as well as an announcement that one of the most prominent youth organisers would be released.

Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, was seized by security agents on January 28, three days after the crisis erupted.

The gestures so far have done little to persuade the tens of thousands occupying Cairo's Tahrir Square to end their two-week long protest, leaving the two sides in an uneasy stalemate.

The protesters have vowed to stay put until Mr Mubarak steps down, while the regime wants him to stay in office until elections in September.

Newly-appointed Finance Minister Samir Radwan said 6.5 billion Egyptian pounds (€704.9m) will be allocated to cover the salary and pension increases, which will take effect in April for the six million people on public payrolls.

"We don't trust him and he's a liar - he's made many promises in the past," said Salih Abdel-Aziz, an engineer with a public sector company, referring to the president. "He could raise it 65% and we wouldn't believe him. As long as Mubarak is in charge then all of these are brittle decisions that can break at any moment."

Public employees have been a pillar of support for the regime, but their salaries have stagnated in recent years while prices have soared, forcing the government to periodically announce rises to quell dissatisfaction.

Following widespread labour unrest in public sector factories in 2008, Mr Mubarak announced a 30% increase in public sector salaries that appeared to temporarily blunt public anger at the time.

The regime appears confident in its ability for the moment to ride out the unprecedented storm of unrest, and maintain its grip on power, at least until September elections, but it has made a number of moves in response to protesters' demands.

Egypt's vice president Omar Suleiman also met several major opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, for the first time yesterday and offered new concessions including freedom of the press, release of those detained during the protests and the eventual lifting of the country's hated emergency laws.

Egypt's state-run news agency reported today that Mr Mubarak ordered parliament and its highest appeal court to re-examine lower-court rulings disqualifying hundreds of ruling party MPs for campaign and ballot irregularities, that were ignored by electoral officials - possibly paving the way for new elections.

The ruling National Democratic Party won more than 83% of the 518 seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections, which were widely condemned as being rigged.

Judicial officials also promised to start the questioning three former ministers and a senior ruling party official accused of corruption charges after they were dismissed by Mr Mubarak last week. The cabinet reshuffle was intended to placate protesters by removing some of the most hated officials in the government.

Meanwhile, the rest of the city enjoyed the most normal weekday routine than on any day since the start of the unrest on January 25.

Banks were open for limited hours along with many shops. The stock market announced it would reopen on Sunday, although schools were still shut for the mid-year holiday.

Traffic was returning to ordinary levels in many places and the start of the night-time curfew was relaxed to 8pm.

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