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Strikes across Egypt add pressure to the protests

Thousands of state employees held strikes in cities around Egypt Wednesday.

Egyptian anti-government demonstrators hold a candlelight vigil at Cairo's Tahrir Square on Feb. 9, 2011. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

A re-energized opposition movement increased its pressure on the Egyptian government Wednesday with labor strikes and new protests around the country.

Thousands of people working at various state companies went on strike at their separate factories Wednesday. This included textile workers, public transport workers, electricity workers, medicine bottle manufacturers, sanitation workers and a firm involved in Suez Canal ship repairs, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports.

Estimates of the number of people involved in the labor strikes across Egypt varied from 5,000 to tens of thousands.

Most demanded an increase in the country's minimum wage, which has not risen in 27 years, and the right to form independent unions.

The strikes also affected the post offices and even the state's flagship newspaper, Al Ahram, where freelance writers demanded better pay and more autonomy from the government. 

"On Wednesday, the front page, which had sought for days to downplay the protests, called recent attacks by pro-[Hosni] Mubarak protesters on Tahrir Square an 'offense to the whole nation,'" The New York Times reports.

The involvement of Egypt's labor movement, which has largely sat out of the protests over the past two weeks, could add a big boost to the opposition by bringing experience at protesting and organizing, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The decision of the laborers to strike does not look to be linked to a single source or leader. The various companies appear to have made the decision independently.

“We did not expect that it would be everywhere like this. Every hour we hear about a strike in another place," Rahma Refaat, a programs coordinator for the Center for Trade Unions and Workers’ Services, told the Wall Street Journal.

Demonstrators continued to occupy Tahrir Square, which has been at the center of the protests since they began on Jan. 25. Hundreds also remained camped out in front of parliament, which protesters targeted for the first time Tuesday.

Referring to the demonstration outside the People's Assembly, Mohamed Fadl, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and former member of parliament, told the Globe and Mail, "this is the second stage."

"The next stage," he continued, "will be to move to more centers around the city, to put more and more pressure on this regime.”

He said that stage is expected to begin Friday.

As the protests continued, the White House put increasing pressure on Egypt to take steps to address the concerns of the demonstrators.

"The government has not taken the necessary steps that the people of Egypt need to see. That's why more and more people come out to register their grievances," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.

"If there's some notion on the government side that you can put the genie back in this bottle, I think that's gone a long time ago."

This follows calls Tuesday by Vice President Joe Biden on the government to lift its state of emergency and stop harassing activists and journalists.

However, the Egyptian leadership shows little sign of backing down. Vice President Omar Suleiman said Tuesday the government will not tolerate prolonged protests in Tahrir Square.

Egypt's state-run MENA news agency quoted Suleiman as saying that a crisis triggered by 16 days of anti-Mubarak protests in Tahrir Square must end "as soon as possible."

MENA says Suleiman told a group of Egyptian newspaper editors that the presence of anti-Mubarak activists and satellite television stations in the square was making Egyptian citizens "hesitant to go to work" and disrupting daily life. He accused satellite TV stations of "insulting" Egypt, but did not name any.

He added: "We cannot bear this situation for a long time and we must end this crisis as soon as possible."



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