Egypt mobilizes troops after protesters threaten Suez Canal

CAIRO — The Egyptian military on Sunday mobilized ground troops, light tanks and personnel carriers as protesters threatened to shut down Port Tawfiq, a key link of the Suez Canal.

Offshore, Egyptian navy vessels cordoned off the floating dry dock and other facilities.

The military action was triggered by hundreds of furious protesters marching toward the Suez Canal with the intention of shutting it down. The protesters were reacting to a speech late Saturday by Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, whose attempt to ease public anger backfired and created more trouble for the Egyptian government led by Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The protesters, who included families of demonstrators killed in January during the protests that brought down the government of Hosni Mubarak, were turned back by striking shipyard workers.

"The families of the martyrs and hundreds of other protesters wanted to break into the Suez Canal shipyards. We — the canal workers — kept them out to avoid any violence or bloody reaction from the government troops," said Hamdy Saleh, a shipyard installation technician who's been on strike for the past 25 days.

Port Tawfiq, in the southern part of Suez, hosts the Suez Canal Authority, power plants, the headquarters of the Suez Canal companies, and the main entrances to shipyards and maintenance docks.

The Suez Canal Authority announced Sunday morning that the canal traffic is under control in spite of the public strikes and protests.

"The security of the Suez Canal is a red line that should never be crossed, it will be kept safe by the Egyptian National Security Department," Adm. Ahmed Ali Fadel, the head of the authority, announced Sunday morning.

During Prime Minister Sharaf's brief speech Saturday night, he announced the suspension of all officers suspected or charged with killing protesters during the January revolution, forming panels to monitor and speed up the trials of corrupt members of the former government, building a sustained mechanism for continuous dialogue with different national youth fronts, and finally the immediate compensation of victims' families and full health care for other injured victims of the revolution.

Unnamed top-ranking officers of the Central Security Sector of the Interior Ministry, however, announced the start of a general strike.

"We refuse the suspension of officers who were acquitted by respected courts, we will spread the strike to cover the whole country if the judiciary system is not respected and if it continues to operate under pressure," said the statement by officers.

Egyptian Central Security Forces, also known as riot police, are blamed for the vast majority of the revolution deaths and injuries after leading deadly attacks on protesters between Jan. 25 and Jan. 28, a day that witnessed hundreds of deaths across the country.

Thousands of protesters continued their open sit in on the famous Tahrir or Liberation Square in Cairo. Dozens of tents hosted the striking protesters who announced on Sunday morning their plans to paralyze the underground train system of the capital if the revolution demands are not fulfilled within 24 hours.

Youth movements announced their full rejection of the prime minister's failed attempt to persuade the public. Several representatives of youth movements, political currents and popular committees turned down an invitation from Sharaf to meet on Saturday night.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, announced on Saturday night that it will not take part in any open strike or sit in.


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