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Egyptian Demonstrators Leave Square As Workers Remain Defiant


Soldiers escort the few remaining protesters away from Tahrir Square.
Egypt's new military rulers have urged protesters to return to work, saying a growing wave of strikes is harming the nation's security and economy.

"Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results," the army said in a statement on February 14.

Fresh protests and strikes erupted as workers, emboldened by the ousting of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak last week, demanded higher wages and a crackdown on rampant corruption.

Anti-Mubarak protests, by contrast, have quieted down since the army pledged on February 13 to dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution.

Employees from the public transport sector and the state Youth and Sports Organization held two separate rallies in the capital to demand better working conditions.

Pyramid Workers On Strike

Some 150 tourism workers held a similar protest by the Great Pyramids on February 14 and hundreds of employees rallied outside a branch of the Bank of Alexandria in Cairo, calling for their bosses to step down.

Bank employee Samir Mohamed el-Sayed said the employees had been complaining for years without any result.

"There are huge gaps in salaries between the old employees who do all the work and the new, young employees hired on contracts of thousands of Egyptian pounds," he said.

Banks remained shut and the country's stock exchange is not expected to resume until the end of the week.

Hours after the military cleared Cairo's Tahrir Square of the last remaining protesters, hundreds of officers from Egypt's reviled police force gathered at the site, saying they wanted to show solidarity with the revolution.

Police officer Sayed Arafeh said that he was "from the people and I love the people. We are all members of the community and we serve everyone. We never hated the people."

Tahrir Square Calm

The bulk of antigovernment protesters have now left Tahrir Square, the focal point of the protests, after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces pledged that it would stay in power for six months or until elections are held.

The cabinet appointed last month by Mubarak will continue governing but will now report to the army chiefs.

The televised announcement was welcomed by antigovernment protesters, who see parliament and the constitution as corrupted by Mubarak.

Cairo resident Hassan Alaydi told Reuters that the protesters were satisfied. "This is what the street wants," he said.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said on February 13 that the caretaker government's No. 1 priority was "to restore security and to facilitate daily life for its citizens."

The new administration said it was investigating accusations against some of Mubarak's former top ministers. Attempts are also under way to reclaim some of the money controlled by members of his regime.

What About Mubarak?

The future plans of Mubarak, who has left Cairo and is believed to be at his residence in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, remain unclear.

His downfall continues to spur calls for democratic reform across the Arab world, with mounting antigovernment protests in Algeria and Yemen -- where thousands of students and lawyers took to the streets on February 14 demanding the ouster of long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tendered his government's resignation in a move widely seen as inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The office of President Mahmud Abbas said he had accepted the decision and asked Fayyad to form a new cabinet.

written by Claire Bigg with contributions from agency reports
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