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Egypt military says will not allow strikes to go on

Egyptians mass again in burst of revolutionary joy

Egypt's ruling military council said on Friday it would not allow the continuation of strikes it said were harming the economy, state television reported, quoting a statement from the military.

"They will be confronted and legal steps will be taken against them to protect the security of the nation and citizens," said the statement, which state media attributed to a military source.

Millions of jubilant Egyptians flooded Cairo's central square earlier on Friday, in an historic day of unbridled joy one week after a popular uprising forced Hosni Mubarak to step down and restored pride to a repressed nation.

Under the title "Victory March", a sea of people pressed across bridges spanning the Nile and surged into Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the heart of an 18-day display of people power that shook the Arab world.

"You are Egyptian -- raise your head high," read one banner amid a sea of red, white and black national flags stretching across the square and far down the capital's streets. Horse carriages were back on the streets and their owners have put little Egyptian flag bandannas on their feet.

At least 365 people were killed and 5,500 injured in the protests leading up to Mubarak's downfall, according to the health ministry.

No more strikes

Egypt's vast public sector has been hit by strikes by groups ranging from policemen to employees of state-owned banks. Workers inspired by the revolt have been demanding better pay and conditions.

Apart from the strikes, the military council which has been running Egypt for a week said "some elements" were preventing state employees from working, while others were appropriating state land and building on agricultural land.

"The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces will not allow the continuation of those illegitimate practices," it said.

The council understood workers' demands and had instructed the relevant state bodies to study and act on them, it said. But citizens must do their duty to the state, it added.

"It was also noted that the continuation of the state of instability and the consequences resulting from it will lead to damage in national security," the statement said.

Qaradawi's speech

Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, an influential Egyptian preacher, called for a new government and the immediate release of all political prisoners at the rally in central Cairo.

Addressing Egyptians in a televised sermon at Friday prayers, Sheikh Qaradawi said: "I call on the Egyptian army to liberate us from the government that Mubarak formed."

The cabinet now in place is largely the same one that Mubarak appointed shortly before he stepped down from the presidency. A reshuffle is expected in the next few days.

"Change has come and we must be steadfast. Egyptians must stay awake and watchful," Khaled Ahmed Zaki, a 46-year-old construction worker, told Reuters in Tahrir Square, adding:

"Many with bad intentions are trying to steal the people's revolution. We have to be vigilant and protect the gains."

Google executive Wael Ghonim, who emerged as a leading voice in Egypt's uprising, was barred from the stage in Tahrir Square by security guards, an AFP photographer said.

Ghonim tried to take the stage in Tahrir, but men who appeared to be guarding Qaradawi barred him from doing so.

Ghonim, who was angered by the episode, then left the square with his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.

With the Higher Military Council facing demands to free political prisoners and to lift emergency rules after dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution, all eyes were on the military's careful management of rallies around Egypt.

The atmosphere was relaxed and jubilant as the military blocked off the square to traffic ahead of Friday prayers. Soldiers and organizers conducted searches of people streaming in while an army band played "Egypt the Great".

The crowd sang along, waving Egyptian flags given out by soldiers, and chanting: "The army and the people are united." There were tanks and armoured vehicles at the 12 entrances to the sprawling square.

Far from normal

Life in Egypt is still far from normal almost a week after the popular revolt focused on Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, with tanks on the streets, banks closed, workers on strike and schools shut.

The revolution in Egypt, a U.S. ally which has signed a peace treaty with Israel, sent tremors through the region. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq, taking their cue from Egypt and Tunisia before it.

Security officials said Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq will announce ministers making up the new emergency government next week and hoped the reshuffle would help to appease protesters and workers on strike.

"Shafiq will announce the new government early next week ... Sunday or at the latest Monday and hopefully this will convince people to turn to their daily affairs," said an official.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group which says it is committed to democracy, is seen as the only truly organised bloc in Egypt and believes it could win up to 30 percent of votes in a free election.

The Brotherhood also warned of the need to protect the gains from the revolution.

"We urge all noble people ... to guard the revolution and its legitimate demands, and not to leave the chance for opportunists to kidnap it and its accomplishments which, with God's permission, have begun to bear fruit," said the Brotherhood's leader Mohamed Badie, ahead of the march.

"This is an Egypt that cannot be deceived," Badie said in his Friday message to followers on the Brotherhood's website.

Mubarak sympathizers

Other groups held a simultaneous demonstration to "apologize" to Mubarak for the way he was ousted and recognize his achievements in his three decades in power.

Organizers said the Mubarak sympathizers are wearing black, with the victory marchers in white, and organizers said they hoped that the rallies would be peaceful.

The marches, starting in different parts of Cairo, were expected to gather momentum after midday prayers. Demonstrations were also likely in the port of Alexandria.

The army has kept the population on its side during the turmoil and promised to lift a decades-old emergency law, but is under pressure from activists who spearheaded the revolution to act swiftly to advance civil freedoms in the new Egypt.

The army is pledging to hand power to civilian parties when they are strong enough. Opposition forces sidelined or enfeebled under Mubarak's authoritarian rule are beginning to mobilise.

The new youth party, the "Revolutionaries of Tahrir Square", said it will join the march in Tahrir to celebrate and press for the demands of the revolution.

Ibrahim Darawi, one of the founding members, said the yet-to-be registered party would back more protests if needed.

"The founders' goal is to move Tahrir Square with all its diversity and political resolve to the party," Darawi told Reuters. "We oppose one-man leadership and stress that leaders must be from the youth," he added.

Freezing assets in Europe

European diplomats said Friday that the European Union nations are in agreement in principle on freezing the assets of members of ex-president Mubarak's inner circle, should Egypt request it.

An agreement on the principle was reached at talks between the Brussels ambassadors of the EU's 27 member states, one of the diplomats told AFP.

"There's a general agreement for a follow-up if this is what Egypt wants," said the diplomat.

"There are no problems in principle," said another top diplomat who asked not to be identified.

No immediate decision is expected however failing a request from the Egyptian authorities to the EU as a whole.

The issue is expected to be raised during talks between EU foreign ministers Sunday evening and Monday that will focus on an EU response to the protests sweeping the Arab world. "We do not expect a decision," a diplomat said.