Tue, Feb 15, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Egyptians mass as army appeals for national unity

Reuters and AFP, CAIRO and TEL AVIV, Israel

Egypt’s army yesterday called for national solidarity, urged workers to play their role in reviving the economy and criticized strike action, after many employees have been emboldened by protests to demand better pay.

In “Communique No. 5” read out on state television, the army spokesman said: “Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results,” adding that it harmed security and economic production.

He also said the army “calls on citizens and professional unions and the labour unions to play their role fully.”

Egyptians massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday just hours after military police and soldiers had cleared the last pro-democracy activists from the area, witnesses said.

The army had appeared to be in full control of the square, heart of the protests that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Then hundreds of police marched through, unhindered by troops, saying they wanted to show solidarity with the revolution.

The police protesters and thousands of onlookers around them disrupted traffic that had begun flowing over the weekend. The police marchers joined a growing wave of protests and strikes as Egyptians used their new-found freedom to vent their anger at the country’s political system.

“We are with the people. We ask the people of Egypt not to ostracize us,” Lieutenant Mohammed Mestekawy said, as scuffles broke out between the marchers and people angry at them for trying to “steal or co-opt the people’s revolution.”

“I do not believe them. Where were they when my brother was killed by thugs?” asked Samah Hassan, who picked a fight with one officer as the marchers headed to the Interior Ministry. “They are free riders. They want to claim the revolution for themselves. They are agents.”

Pro-democracy leaders say Egyptians will demonstrate again if their demands for radical change are not met. They plan a huge “Victory March” on Friday to celebrate the revolution, and perhaps to remind the military of the power of the street.

Egypt’s generals are asserting their control following Mubarak’s overthrow and trying to get life and the damaged economy back to normal. However, disgruntled employees yesterday were demonstrating and striking in Cairo and other cities for better deals.

In a sign of nervousness, Egypt’s stock exchange, closed since Jan. 27 because of the turmoil, said it would remain shut until the end of the week, an official said.

The interim military rulers called a bank holiday yesterday after disruption in the banking sector and there is a national holiday today to mark the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.

Having suspended the Constitution and dissolved parliament on Sunday, the military council was planning to issue orders intended to stifle disruption and get the country back on its feet, a military source said.

Free and fair elections will be held under a revised constitution, the military said, but it gave no timetable beyond saying it would be in charge “for a temporary period of six months or until the end of elections to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and presidential elections.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of tour guides gathered yesterday in the shadow of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids to urge tourists to return to the country. The guides gathered at the Giza Plateau site, bearing Egyptian flags and banners in English, French, Russian and German reading: “Egypt loves you.”

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