Protests spread to Parliament complex

Atul Aneja
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Uproar over Vice-President Suleiman's coup threat

Revving up protesters: Egyptian executive at Google and cyber-activist Wael Ghonim and Khaled Said, mother of an activist, in Cairo on Tuesday. — PHOTO: AFP
Revving up protesters: Egyptian executive at Google and cyber-activist Wael Ghonim and Khaled Said, mother of an activist, in Cairo on Tuesday. — PHOTO: AFP

With Tahrir Square as their hallowed base, pro-democracy protesters are expanding their physical footprint, by now camping outside the Parliament complex, amid a fresh wave of countrywide strikes that have also rocked the strategic port city of Suez.

As the protesters started downing their mattresses and sheets for an extended stay outside Parliament, the Cabinet building has been evacuated, Al Jazeera reported.

The protesters are trying to hold areas other than the square after the uprising got its second wind on Tuesday. Tens of thousands — many inspired Wael Ghonim, the released Google executive and pro-democracy activist — thronged the square then. The protesters on Tuesday also seemed to have settled at targeting the Parliament building, a regime symbol, as the second focal point. They appear to have given up on their earlier plan to demonstrate outside the presidential palace, occupied by Hosni Mubarak, president for 30 years.  The protesters have decided to stage demonstrations every Tuesday and Friday, allowing more time for strategising and rest, as preparation for the long haul.

Analysts say that an angered pro-democracy camp has also reenergised because of Vice-President Omar Suleiman's virtual ultimatum on Tuesday that Egypt's civil disobedience movement must stop.  He was quoted as saying the uprising posed a “grave threat to society,” and pointed out that rejection of talks as structured by the government could result in an avoidable “hasty and irrational coup.” The state-run MENA news agency quoted him as saying there was “no ending of the regime,” and it was pointless to seek Mr. Mubarak's departure.

However, Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of youth protest groups, has accused Mr. Suleiman of creating a “disastrous scenario”, the Associated Press news agency has reported.

“He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed,” AP quoted Mr. Samir as saying. “But what would he do with the rest of 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward?” Critics of the regime point out that apprehensions had deepened about the government's intent to steer a speedy transition to democratic rule after regime loyalists were appointed on a committee that is meant to lead Egypt's “peaceful and orderly transition of power”.  On the panel are senior judges known to be close to Mr. Mubarak, as well as legal exerts who have supported a gradual transition of power till the President completed his term ending in September. Not surprisingly, sloganeering in Tahrir Square has begun to more intensely target Mr. Suleiman.

Over the last 24 hours, a wave strikes have hit Egypt, including Suez, the port city on the edge of Suez Canal where nearly 6000 workers are on strike. Industrial action in Suez is attracting global attention as nearly 8 per cent of world trade including oil supplies pass through the Suez Canal. Around 3000 employees from Egyptian National Railways (ENR) have also stayed away from work. Thousands in the retail petroleum sector were out in the streets in Cairo demanding higher pay and better conditions.

Hundreds of journalists and workers at Egypt's state-owned Al-Ahram and Rose Al-Youssef newspapers also struck work on Tuesday.

Pro-democracy activists say sustained support from the trade unions will deepen their movement and impart more durability to their campaign.



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