Cairo: Egyptian train drivers and conductors announced they were on strike on Sunday to press demands for better pay, the latest in a seemingly endless series of work stoppages to hit the country in the past two years.
The strike began only hours after Transport Minister Hatem Abdel-Lateef approved a 10 per cent hike in the bonuses routinely given to all railway workers. The raise was rejected by the train drivers and conductors as too little, sticking to their demands for a salary raise and a better bonus system. They are members of a national union grouping all railway workers.
Trains stopped running from three key cities Cairo, the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and Tanta in the Nile Delta, bringing to a halt most services around the nation.
Thousands of angry passengers crowded train stations in many parts of the country, with long lines formed at ticket windows by passengers seeking to get a refund for unused tickets.
The labor unrest that followed the 2011 toppling of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak has deepened Egypt`s economic woes as well as the political schism pitting President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist allies against the mostly secular and liberal opposition.
The strike followed a night of clashes yesterday in downtown Cairo between police and opposition supporters outside the city`s main courthouse. Police used tear gas to disperse a rock-throwing crowd of some 3,000 protesters who also threw firebombs at the building, tried to storm it and blocked nearby roads.
The complex is home to the office of Talaat Abdullah, the country`s top prosecutor appointed by Morsi late last year. His appointment was decried as illegal by some judges and fellow prosecutors. A court ruling last week annulled the presidential decree appointing Abdullah, who continues to carry out his duties.
The presidency says it is considering whether to appeal the ruling.
Abdullah today ordered an investigation into the Saturday night events at the courthouse together with similarly violent protests in two Nile Delta provinces.
The protests were part of demonstrations across much of the country to mark the fifth anniversary of the birth of the April 6th Youth Movement. The group, which played a key role in the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, backed Morsi in election run-offs last June but has since turned against him.
April 6, like other opposition groups, accuses the Egyptian leader of acting like his autocratic predecessor and of not having an inclusive political process.
Morsi`s Muslim Brotherhood party says Morsi should be challenged at the ballot box, not in street protests.
Yesterday`s protests included a demonstration outside Morsi`s presidential palace in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, with some painting graffiti on its walls calling on him to step down and denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which the president hails.