Egypt protests, strikes continue to grow nationwide

Egypt protests, strikes continue to grow nationwide

Egypt's pro-democracy activists refused to cede any ground on their 16th day of protests Wednesday, as demonstrations demanding higher wages, political reforms and the ouster of President Hosny Mubarak spread further around the country, dpa reported.

The hundreds of thousands of protesters - who have made Cairo's Tahrir, or liberation, Square their centre for rallies - dug in their heels despite promises from the government to implement reforms.

The government, meanwhile, created three committees to review Egypt's constitution. A judiciary committee agreed Wednesday to amend six articles, among them putting term limits on the presidency and expanding who can run for the highest office in the country.

The Ministry for Higher Education was quoted in state media announcing that public schools and universities would resume classes on February 20, as banks and businesses opened for the fourth day following over a week of closure.

Mubarak's administration also restored the broadcast feeds for al- Jazeera Arabic and al-Jazeera Live channels, both of which had been banned from the country's Nilesat operator for more than a week.

Despite attempts to return the country to normalcy, protesters disregarded a warning from Vice President Omar Suleiman, of the danger of a "coup" if discussions with opposition groups failed.

"We want to avoid a coup, which is a hasty and irrational step," Suleiman was quoted in newspapers as saying, stressing that dialogue was "the right way to achieve stability."

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood, however, said that recently launched talks with the government were inconclusive and were on- hold, as the group also continued calls for the resignation of Mubarak's government.

There is also still little official information on the number of people killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.

Broadcaster al-Arabiya reported Wednesday that three people died and about 100 were injured in several days of violence in the southern town of el-Kharga, some 400 kilometres south of Cairo.

The United Nations said last week that it had received unconfirmed reports of 300 dead in the nationwide protests.

As protests reignited throughout the country, hundreds camped out in front of the Egyptian parliament, while equal numbers returned to the streets of the northern coastal city of Alexandria and the North Sinai cities of al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid.

In Port Said, a city north-east of Cairo, the provincial council building was set on fire.

Meanwhile, some 3,000 Egyptian National Railways employees went on strike demanding better pay. The protesters sat on railway lines, disrupting train services, and threatened not to move until their demands are met, according to local news website al-Masry al-Youm.

Back at Tahrir Square in Cairo, protesters called for another "1- million-strong rally" nationwide on Friday, as their resolve strengthened to force Mubarak to step down.

The past two weeks of revolt prompted the UN Security Council members to discuss a proposal to send a delegation to the Middle East.

For its part, Cairo rebuffed requests by concerned governments and organizations to visit this month due to a domestic agenda which is already heavily loaded, sources said.

Palestinians have also been turned away as authorities at Cairo's international airport said Palestinians are barred from entering the country. An official told the state-run website Egynews that the decision was made to lessen airport traffic.

The move comes as the embattled president's government blamed "foreign intervention" for the protests calling for his ouster.

In Washington, the White House said the Egyptian government has so far fallen short of meeting the demands of the opposition seeking democratic reforms.

"It is clear that what the government has thus far put forward has yet to meet a minimum threshold for the people of Egypt," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Suleiman also warned of a threat by elements of Jihadist groups who have escaped prisons. For several days after the protests started on January 25, thousands of prisoners escaped from jails across the country after the security forces disappeared from cities.

The protesters claim the government is keen to stir up fears of an Islamist resurgence and chaos in order to cling to power.

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