Cairo: Egypt`s President praised the country`s policemen on Friday despite public criticism over their violent response to anti-government demonstrations, and warned officers who are also protesting his rule against breaking ranks.
President Mohammed Morsi spoke ahead of traditional Islamic Friday prayers, which he attended at a Cairo-based camp for riot police in a show of solidarity with the force.
The black-clad riot squads have been at the forefront of deadly clashes with protesters for more than two years.
Rights groups accuse the police of using snipers and lethal force against unarmed protesters. More than 1,000 demonstrators have died in the clashes, and policemen also have been killed and have suffered serious injuries.
Part of the Interior Ministry`s force that oversees Egypt`s battered police has been on strike for more than a week. Many say they are tired of having to confront protesters angry with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group`s policies.
Thousands of officers and low-ranking policemen staged protests this month outside police stations and refused to work.
They are demanding that Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim resign and accuse him of trying to politicise the force.
Thousands of policemen in the Interior Ministry are also demanding higher wages, better working conditions, greater firepower and stronger immunity from prosecution for carrying out their duties.
Some of the striking officers say the Brotherhood is attempting to control them. The Brotherhood denies that.
In his speech, Morsi warned the force against divisions. "Be aware, as I know you are, against breaking ranks or else our enemy will break us all," Morsi said. "Our enemy outside the country is happy when we are divided."
The head of riot police and the interior minister stood next to Morsi as he told dozens of low-ranking policemen who mostly hail from Egypt`s poorest quarters that their unity and hard work is appreciated.
"This country loves you, hugs you and protects you, and always expects from you courage and sacrifice," Morsi said.
His praise of the police comes as a government report obtained this week by a news agency concluded that police were behind the deaths of nearly 900 protesters during the country`s 2011 uprising.