CAIRO (AP) – Doctors in white lab coats and lawyers in black robes streamed into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday as labor unrest across the country gave powerful momentum to Egypt's wave of anti-government protests. With its efforts to manage the crisis failing, the government threatened the army could crack down by imposing martial law. (Scroll down for live updates.)
The protests in their 17th day – which have focused on demanding President Hosni Mubarak's ouster and the end of his regime's heavy hand on power – have tapped into the even deeper well of anger over economic woes, including inflation, unemployment, corruption, low wages and wide economic disparities between rich and poor.
For the second day, crowds angry over lack of housing rioted in the Suez Canal city of Port Said. On Thursday, they set fire to the local headquarters of state security, the main post office and the governor's offices, which had already been partially burned the day before. It appeared police and soldiers were not intervening.
The spread of labor unrest was in part in direct response to calls from protesters as strikers expressed their support for the political movement. But there also seemed to be another element – locals unleashing long pent-up resentment at symbols of the state, whether it was an unpopular local police chief, a state factory seen as stiffing workers or a governor failing to follow through on promises.
The government warnings raised the prospect that the energized protests could bring a new crackdown.
Speaking to the Arab news network Al-Arabiya on Thursday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that if "adventurers" take over the process of reform the military "will be compelled to defend the constitution and national security ... and we'll find ourselves in a very grave situation."
The night earlier, he was more explicit, saying in an interview with "PBS NewsHour" that there would be chaos if Mubarak stepped down immediately. "Do we want the armed forces to assume the responsibility of stabilizing the nation thru imposing martial law, and army in the streets?" he said. It was the second coup warning this week, with Prime Minister Omar Suleiman making similar threats Tuesday.
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