Page last updated at 18:33 GMT, Sunday, 6 April 2008 19:33 UK

Clashes in Egypt strike stand-off

Protesters and police in Cairo - 6/4/2008
A heavy police presence cut short protests in Cairo and elsewhere

Egyptian textile workers and police have clashed after security forces prevented a strike by taking control of a major Nile Delta textiles plant.

Workers threw stones and set fire to shops in Mahalla al-Kubra as police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.

Elsewhere in Egypt, protests against economic conditions have largely failed in the face of a heavy police presence.

But traffic in Cairo was reported to be lighter than usual as many people

avoided going to work or school.

Tough action threatened

Independent workers' rights organisers had hoped a strike by the 27,000 employees of the state-owned Misr Helwan Spinning and Weaving Company would be the centrepiece of a nationwide day of action against rising prices and low wages.

Police occupied the factory in Mahalla al-Kubra, in northern Egypt, overnight and prevented workers from gathering at the end of their shifts.

However, as many as 2,000 protesters gathered in the town's main square where they clashed with police.

We have to give [the government] a chance to see improvements
Sayyid Habib, labour leader

At least 50 people were arrested, officials said. Witnesses said more than 100 people were injured in the textile town, Reuters news agency reported.

About 50 more people were arrested in Cairo and several provinces as a heavy police presence cut short other protests.

Solidarity strikes and demonstrations elsewhere in Egypt were cancelled.

The authorities had threatened tough action against anyone taking part in a strike, saying no public demonstrations would be tolerated.

Strikes are illegal in Egypt and in the past the government has ordered the police to break them up by using force.

Limited appeal

The attempted strike came two days before key municipal elections on Tuesday, the first to take place under the constitutional amendments passed in March 2007.

Some schools cancelled classes and told pupils to stay at home, possibly because of fears of trouble in the streets rather than the strike itself.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says that although a wave of popular discontent has been sweeping the country in response to the rising cost of food and low wages, the groups calling for the general strike have limited public appeal.

Egyptian textile factory affected by strike (8 February 2007)
Several textile factories have been hit by strikes in the past two years
Workers are also divided about striking. Labour leader Sayyid Habib said the government was working to meet the workers' demands.

"We have to give them a chance to see improvements," he told Associated Press news agency.

In September, thousands of workers seized control of the Mahalla al-Kubra factory during a similar strike.

A strike at the plant in December 2006 led to a wave of labour protests and demonstrations across Egypt, after which the state met the workers' demands.

The Egyptian government has promised to increase salaries and has extended its food subsidy programme to include an additional 15 million people.

More than a third of Egyptians live below or just above the poverty line of $2 (1) a day.


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