Egyptian labor unrest grows after uprising

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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests Monday as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and transport workers, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

The statement by the ruling military council that took power from Mubarak appeared to be a final warning to protest organizers in labor and professional unions before the army intervenes and imposes an outright ban on gatherings, strikes and sit-ins.

Soldiers cleared out almost all the remaining protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the giant traffic circle that was turned into a protest camp headquarters for 18-day revolt. During more than two weeks of round-the-clock demonstrations at the square, protesters set up tents, brought in blankets, operated medical clinics and festooned the entire plaza with giant banners demanding removal of the regime. At the height of the uprising, hundreds of thousands packed the downtown crossroads.

Several huge trucks were piled high with blankets that protesters used to sleep left the square Tuesday. All the tents were gone, as were other signs of permanent camps. By early afternoon, a few dozen determined protesters remained, standing in one corner of the square, yelling for the release of political prisoners.

The remaining protesters say they won’t leave before all those detained during the revolt are released.

Egypt’s ambassador to the United States said Mubarak may be in “bad health,” providing the first word on the state of the 82-year-old leader since he was ousted on Friday and the military took over running the country.

Speaking Monday on NBC’s “Today” program, Sameh Shoukry said he had received information that Mubarak was “possibly in somewhat of bad health.” He said he could not be more specific, but two Cairo newspapers on Monday said Mubarak was refusing to take medication, depressed and repeatedly passing out at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. There was no immediate confirmation of the reports.

Mubarak had surgery in Germany last year to remove his gallbladder.

The latest communique by the ruling military council was read out on state television by a military spokesman. It said Egypt needed a quieter climate so the military can run the nation’s affairs at this “critical stage” and eventually hand over the reins of power to an elected and civilian administration.

The statement also warned that strikes and protests hurt the country’s security and economy and gave a chance to what it called “irresponsible parties” to commit “illegal acts.” It did not elaborate.

Amid the efforts to build a new system, Egypt’s upheaval has splintered into a host of smaller grievances, the inevitable outcome of emboldened citizens feeling free to speak up, most of them for the first time.