Egypt's anti-government activists called on supporters on Wednesday to expand their demonstrations in defiance of the vice president's warning that protests calling for President Hosni Mubarak's ouster would not be tolerated for much longer.
Vice president Omar Suleiman, who is managing the crisis, raised the prospect of a new crackdown on protesters Tuesday when he told Egyptian newspaper editors there could be a "coup" unless demonstrators agree to enter negotiations. The protesters insist they won't talk before Mubarak steps down, which the president is refusing to do.
"He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed," said Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of the five main youth groups behind protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square. "But what would he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward."
For the first time, protesters were calling forcefully on Wednesday for labour strikes after Suleiman warned that calls by some protesters for a campaign of civil disobedience are "very dangerous for society and we can't put up with this at all."
The vice president's warnings were the latest in a series of confused messages from the government to the protesters.
Although it was not clear what the vice president intended in his "coup" comment, the protesters heard it as a veiled threat to impose martial law, which would be a dramatic escalation in the standoff.