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Egypt's New Military Rulers To Ban Unions, Strikes

Marwa Awad and Alistair Lyon

Egyptian protesters stage a sit-in in Tahrir Square, rejecting army's appeal to leave. (John Moore/Getty Images)

CAIRO  - Egypt's new military rulers will issue a warning on Monday against anyone who creates "chaos and disorder", an army source said.

The Higher Military Council will also ban meetings by labor unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The army will also say it acknowledges and protects the right of people to protest, the source said.

Protesters argued heatedly in Tahrir Square over whether to stay or comply with army orders to leave. "The people want the square cleared," one group chanted. "We will not leave, we will not leave," replied another.

Police officers, emboldened by Mubarak's downfall, gathered outside the Interior Ministry to demand higher pay. Warning shots were fired in the air. No one was hurt.

Workers from the health and culture ministries staged demonstrations as Egyptians began venting pent-up frustrations.

Thousands of workers have staged strikes, sit-ins and protests over pay and conditions at firms and government agencies in fields such as steel, textiles, telecoms, railways, post offices, banks and oil and pharmaceutical companies.

Egypt declared Monday a bank holiday after workers disrupted operations at the country's main state banks.

Protest organizers were forming a Council of Trustees to defend the revolution and urge swift reform from a military intent on restoring law and order during the transition.

Mahmoud Nassar, a youth movement leader, said: "The army has moved far along to meet the people's demands and we urge it to release all political prisoners who were taken before and after January 25 revolution. Only then will we call off the protests."

'Victory March'

Protesters have demanded the release of political prisoners, the lifting of a state of emergency, the abolition of military courts, fair elections and a swift handover to civilian rule.

The army has said it would lift emergency law, used to stifle dissent under Mubarak, when "current circumstances end". But it has not specified a timetable.

Despite Mubarak's resignation, some protesters have said they plan to stay in Tahrir Square to ensure the military keeps its promises on transition. They have urged Egyptians to turn out in their millions for a "victory march" on Friday.

The military's strategy has been to calm the nation and the world about its intentions and, in the short term, to try to enforce the law after the disgraced police melted away, having failed to crush protesters with teargas and batons.

On Saturday, the army said it would uphold Egypt's international obligations. These include a peace treaty with Israel, whose defence minister has been in touch with his Egyptian counterpart, who heads the military council.

How to handle policing has become a pressing issue.

Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy has said Egypt needs "the speedy return of the police to duty", saying 13 000 inmates who escaped from prison early in the uprising were still on the run.

Some traffic police were back on Cairo streets beside soldiers and tanks guarding intersections and key buildings. But the minister said the police force was only back at 35% of its pre-crisis strength, without giving numbers.

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