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Egypt protests enter 17th day; Govt warns of army intervention

world Updated: Feb 10, 2011 21:07 IST

Emboldened by workers' strike across Egypt, thousands of pro-democracy protesters on Thursday carried out massive rallies against President Hosni Mubarak as they vowed to step up their 17-day revolt despite the government's warning that army could "intervene to control the country."

Egyptian labour unions went on a nationwide strike for the second consecutive day, giving a new dimension to the demonstrations in Cairo and other cities against the embattled President's 30-year autocratic regime.

Lawyers, public transport workers and the artists syndicate were among those who joined the strike, Al Jazeera reported.

Thousands of protesters, who have been staging sit-ins on the Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the hub of the anti-government demonstrations in the heart of Cairo, refused to bow to the military pressure to "go home" and took out rallies against 82-year-old Mubarak as their movement entered the 17th day.

Several hundred protesters had on Wednesday attempted to block the entrance to the Parliament building, blocks away from the Tahrir Square, but were stopped by heavily-armed soldiers.

In a desperate attempt to end the revolt, foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit warned that the army would intervene if the protests escalated.

"If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step... which would lead to a very dangerous situation," the official MENA news agency said quoting Abul Gheit as telling the Arabic-language Al-Arabiya channel.

But protesters, undeterred by the warning, chanted slogans against Mubarak and Vice President Omar Suleiman.

"No to Suleiman. No to American agents. No to Israeli spies. Long live Egypt. Down with Hosni Mubarak," they said while taking out a march outside Parliament building.

Suleiman had on Wednesday warned that if the protesters do not enter negotiations, a "coup" could take place, causing greater chaos in the country.

"If dialogue is not successful, the alternative is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps including lots of irrationalities," he had said.

At the Suez Canal, the crucial state-owned trade link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, about 6,000 workers went on strike on Wednesday amid reports of industrial unrest from across the country.

Al-Jazeera reported that around 20,000 factory workers had stayed away from work across Egypt on Wednesday.

Those on strike were saying that "they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay and they want the 15% increase in pay that was promised to them by the state," it said, adding that a section of them also sought Mubarak's ouster.

Scrambling to find ways out of the crisis, the regime has set free 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, over the last three days.

Human Rights Watch said that the death toll in the uprising has mounted to 302, with the bulk of fatalities coming from Cairo, but Egypt's health ministry has denied these figures.

The US has expressed its complete dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Egyptian government to meet the demands of the pro-democracy protesters and warned that the anti-regime demonstrations are going to grow bigger unless Mubarak takes some concrete steps.

"It is clear that the Egyptian government is going to have to take some real concrete steps in order to meet the threshold that the people of Egypt that they represent require from their government," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

"I think unless, or until that progress takes hold, you're going to see the continued pictures that all of us are watching out of Cairo and of over cities throughout Egypt," Gibbs said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian culture minister Gaber Asfour, who was appointed just nine days ago, has resigned on health grounds.

Asfour had been facing criticism from intellectuals for joining the Mubarak government.