Sunday, April 5, 2009

AFP - Arrests in Egypt ahead of nationwide strike

CAIRO (AFP) — Egyptian authorities have arrested 30 people and deployed extra police around the country as part of a plan to prevent a nationwide strike planned for Monday.

"Police have been given orders to arrest anyone taking part in demonstrations and extra security forces will be deployed around sensitive locations in Cairo and around the country," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Three students were arrested on Sunday in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria for distributing posters calling for a day of action, the official added.

The arrests come a day after 25 students were beaten and arrested in the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Sheikh, after staging a sit-in outside the courthouse there to protest the arrest on Thursday of two other students.

"A central security truck arrived outside the courthouse, and the police began to run after students and beat them," Rawda Ahmed of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) told AFP.

"Some students managed to get away, but police detained 25 of them," she said. When the lawyers came out to see what was happening, "police proceeded to beat them up too."

On Thursday, police detained female students Omneya Ahmed Taha Ghazi and Sara Mohammed Rizk from Kafr el-Sheikh University for distributing posters calling for people to join the April 6 strike.

Monday's strike, dubbed "The Day of Anger in Egypt" has been called for by the "April 6 Movement", a group of young activists formed last year after a similar call for action on the same date in 2008.

The group is urging people to wear black and is calling for protests including sit-ins at people's places of work or study.

The group has two main demands: to set the national minimum monthly salary at 1200 Egyptian pounds (213 dollars) and to elect a body that would draft a new constitution, the organisers said.

The current minimum wage in Egypt is 167 Egyptian pounds (29 dollars).

On Thursday, Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood threw its weight behind the planned action calling on all to "express their anger and objection to the policies of the regime which has squandered the country's riches, neglected its national security and removed Egypt from its role as leader and pioneer."

The Islamists have urged people to strike "using all peaceful channels and abiding by constitutional and legal restrictions while safeguarding public and private property from damage during these peaceful activities."

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, is formally banned but fielded independent candidates in 2005 elections, winning a fifth of the seats in parliament.

The group's parliamentary bloc announced Sunday it would boycott Monday's parliament session as part of the nationwide strike.

Last year's strike, which saw riots erupt in the Nile Delta industrial city of Mahalla, was in protest at price hikes and low salaries. It gained support mainly through the online social networking site Facebook and SMS text messages.

Three people died and hundreds were detained in connection with the 2008 strike.

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