CAIRO – Thousands of workers went on strike Wednesday across Egypt, adding a new dimension to the uprising as public rage turned to the vast wealth President Hosni Mubarak's family reportedly amassed while close to half the country struggled near the poverty line.
Protests calling for Mubarak's ouster have been spreading since Tuesday outside of Cairo's Tahrir Square, where demonstrators have been concentrated for the past two weeks. On Wednesday, protesters also gathered at parliament, the Cabinet and the Health Ministry buildings, all a few blocks from the square, and blocked Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq from his office.
Strikes erupted in a breadth of sectors — among railway and bus workers, state electricity staff and service technicians at the Suez Canal, in factories manufacturing textiles, steel and beverages and at least one hospital.
In one of the flashpoints of unrest Wednesday, some 8,000 protesters, mainly farmers, set barricades of flaming palm trees in the southern province of Assiut. They blocked the main highway and railway to Cairo to complain of bread shortages. They then drove off the governor by pelting his van with stones.
Hundreds of slum dwellers in the Suez Canal city of Port Said set fire to part of the governor's headquarters in anger over lack of housing.
Workers "were motivated to strike when they heard about how many billions the Mubarak family was worth," said Kamal Abbas, a labor leader. "They said: 'How much longer should we be silent?'"
Egyptians have been infuriated by newspaper reports that the Mubarak family has amassed billions, and perhaps tens of billions of dollars in wealth while, according to the World Bank, about 40 percent of the country's 80 million people live below or near the poverty line of $2 a day. The family's true net worth is not known.