Port Said (Egypt): A third day of protests and strikes brought the restive city of Port Said to a halt today, as residents demanded security officials be held accountable for the killings of nearly 50 people in riots last month.
The strategic city at the mouth of the Suez Canal has been at the forefront of protests against President Mohammed Mursi, highlighting the government`s difficulty in asserting authority as discontent widens beyond the capital, Cairo. Despite the protests, shipping through the canal, a key pillar of the economy, has not been disrupted.
In Port Said, thousands marched in support of a general strike called by soccer fans and students. Some carried banners bearing the names of their companies. Others held aloft pictures of those killed in the violence. Most chanted against the president.
"This strike and protest will not end until our demands are met," said Amira el-Alfi, a 33-year old secretary who said factory managers had sent workers home early to join the march.
"We want retribution starting from the President to the interior minister to the snipers who killed those people," she said, referring to claims by residents that security forces firing from rooftops were responsible for many of the deaths in last month`s unrest.
Last month, residents rose up in fury over death sentences issued against locals over a deadly soccer riot a year ago. Most of the deaths in the crisis came when security forces reportedly opened fire on protesters, some of whom attacked police facilities, and at funerals the following day.
Mursi responded with a heavy hand, declaring a state of emergency and 30-day curfew in Port Said and two other Suez Canal provinces following the violence. The state of emergency is still in effect, although residents have ignored the curfew. Security forces backed by tanks and armored vehicles were beefed up along the canal at the weekend.
In an attempt to diffuse the tension, parliament has discussed a long-held demand of Port Said residents to activate a free trade zone. And the local governor said authorities in Cairo have promised to send an investigation team to look into the violence.
Mursi said in a statement today that he will dedicate some USD 59 million dollars of Suez Canal revenues to Port Said and two other provinces along the waterway for development and job creation efforts.
On the streets however, protesters were unimpressed. Many consider the central government to have neglected the city for years. Some are calling for Morsi to step down. Others seek some kind of independence from Cairo, a goal summed up in the now common local protest slogan: "The people want the Republic of Port Said."