Egypt protests: People's Assembly rally amid strikes

The BBC's Jon Leyne says the parliament has been surrounded by protesters

Anti-government protests in the Egyptian capital Cairo have spread to the country's parliament, with access blocked by demonstrators.

Soldiers are guarding the People's Assembly building after a 16th consecutive day of protests.

They took place despite a warning by Vice-President Omar Suleiman that demonstrations had to end.

There are reports of widespread industrial action, and of protests outside Cairo turning violent.

Washington, which has become increasingly critical of Cairo, says the Egyptian government has yet to take the "necessary steps" that its people need to see.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Cairo, says the protesters regard the People's Assembly as illegitimate following general elections late last year which were widely regarded as rigged in favour of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party, which won a massive majority.

Nearby Tahrir Square remains the focal point of protests calling for an end to President Mubarak's 30-year rule, with thousands of demonstrators present, some camping there overnight.

The Associated Press (AP) news agency reports that the capital also saw protests by state electricity workers and museum workers on Wednesday. However, Egypt's most famous tourist attraction, the Pyramids of Giza, reopened to tourists.

Outside Cairo:

  • At least four people have been killed during rioting in the south-western New Valley province, with reports that police opened fire on demonstrators with live ammunition
  • AP reports that 8,000 protesters in the southern province of Assiut blocked the main highway and railway to Cairo with burning palm trees
  • In Port Said, hundreds of protesters set fire to the governorate building
  • At the Suez Canal, the state-owned trade link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, about 6,000 state workers have gone on strike - but the action is not affecting the passage of ships

Late on Tuesday night, Mr Suleiman said the crisis must end, adding: "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."

At the scene

The road sign on People's Assembly Street, the address of the building housing Egypt's lower house of parliament, has been altered with a black marker pen. It now reads simply "People's Street".

The occupation of nearby Tahrir Square has been extended to the pavements here. Several hundred people are now massed outside the impressive white and gold building.

"Illegitimate," is the cry that goes up from one crowd as they shake their fists. Others have spread blankets on the ground and hung up plastic sheets to make a makeshift campsite.

While human chains of volunteers now inspect all those entering the street, there are soldiers with guns on duty behind the railings of the empty government buildings. Nevertheless the mood is peaceful.

The demonstrators may not have achieved one of their goals of dissolving parliament, but they have stopped it from carrying out its normal business.

He warned that if dialogue with the protesters failed, the alternative was "that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities".

Opposition groups reacted angrily to his remarks. They fear the government is stalling for time and will fail to enact meaningful changes.

Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of youth protest groups, accused Mr Suleiman of creating a "disastrous scenario", according to the Associated Press news agency.

"He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed," AP quoted Mr Samir as saying. "But what would he do with the rest of 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward?"

The Egyptian government has announced plans for a peaceful transition, with President Hosni Mubarak to stay in office until elections in September.

The US has called on the government to lift its 30-year state of emergency and to stop harassing journalists and activists.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday: "The government has not taken the necessary steps that the people of Egypt need to see. That's why more and more people come out to register their grievances.

"If there's some notion on the government side that you can put the genie back in this bottle, I think that's gone a long time ago."

He added that the US was reviewing its aid programme to Egypt, and the government's restraint and reform would determine "what that aid will look like".

Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers say they have confirmed the deaths of 297 people since 28 January, based on a count from eight hospitals in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

No comprehensive death toll has been given by the Egyptian government.

Map showing key Cairo protest locations

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