- Associated Press - Monday, February 14, 2011

CAIRO | Egypt’s military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests Monday as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and transport workers, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The statement by the ruling military council that took power from Mr. Mubarak appeared to be a final warning to protest organizers in labor and professional unions before the army intervenes and imposes an outright ban on gatherings, strikes and sit-ins.

Soldiers cleared out almost all the remaining demonstrators from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the giant traffic circle that became a protest camp headquarters for the 18-day revolt. Several huge trucks piled high with protesters’ blankets left the square. All the tents were gone, as were other signs of permanent camps.

By early afternoon, a few dozen stalwarts remained, standing in one corner of the square and yelling for the release of political prisoners. The remaining protesters say they won’t leave until all those detained during the revolt are released.

Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, said the 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak was “possibly in somewhat of bad health,” providing the first word about him since being ousted Friday.

Speaking Monday on NBC’s “Today” show, the envoy said he had received the information about Mr. Mubarak but could not be more specific. Two Cairo newspapers said Mr. Mubarak was refusing to take medication, depressed and repeatedly passing out at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. There was no immediate confirmation of the reports.

Mr. Mubarak had surgery in Germany last year to remove his gallbladder.

On Monday, the Central Bank of Egypt ordered banks across the country closed after a strike by employees of the National Bank, the largest state bank, and several other financial institutions. Tuesday is a national holiday in Egypt to mark the birth of Islam’s 7th-century Prophet Muhammad. The banks are scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

The stock market, however, will stay closed Wednesday and Thursday, the final weekday in Egypt.

The ruling military council has said that security and a return to normal are among its top priorities. It has urged Egyptians to return to work to save the economy after the protests sent hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists fleeing in evacuation flights — a major blow to the country’s biggest economic sector.

Monday’s protests came a day after the ruling military rulers took sweeping action to dismantle Mr. Mubarak’s autocratic legacy, dissolving parliament, suspending the constitution and promising elections.

The generals also met Sunday with representatives of the broad-based youth movement that brought down the government.

The military defended the caretaker government led by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and stocked with Mr. Mubarak loyalists as necessary for now in the interests of stability but pledged to change it soon, according to youth protesters.

On Monday, representatives of the youth groups that organized the protests said they wanted Mr. Shafiq’s government replaced by a Cabinet of technocrats and that Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party be dissolved.

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