Thousands stage strike at Egypt textile giant

CAIRO Sun Jul 15, 2012 12:34pm EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - More than 23,000 workers angered by low wages at Egypt's biggest textile company staged a strike on Sunday, bringing production to a halt and adding to the challenges facing the new president.

The factory of state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving, in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla, was the site of protests in 2008 that sparked a wave of strikes across the country, widely regarded as a catalyst for the revolt that ended the rule of Hosni Mubarak last year.

The latest strike is a test for newly elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi as he strives to form a cabinet to replace the army-backed administration.

Many Egyptian workers, emboldened by the uprising which ousted former President Mubarak, have gone on strike demanding better wages and conditions. Most of the strikes have died down, but sporadic outbursts continue.

About 7,000 of the strikers at Misr Spinning and Weaving staged a sit-in at the factory to call for a rise in their basic wages, a purge of corrupt officials and improvement of conditions at the firm's hospital.

"I am calling on President Mohamed Mursi to pay attention to the workers who elected him," said Wedad El-Demerdash, an employee and a labour activist, adding that the sit-in would continue until the workers' demands were met.

Sayyid Habib, one of the thousands of workers who did not show up for work, told Reuters by telephone: "All the workers have agreed that there is an open sit-in and a continuing general strike until workers' demands are met."

Similar, though smaller, protests have been staged in front of the presidential palace in Cairo since Mursi's election last month. Many of the protests are related to problems of unemployment and low wages.

(Reporting by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Pravin Char)

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