CAIRO – At least 365 people died in the 18 days of anti-government protests that pushed out longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the Health Ministry said Wednesday in the first official accounting of the death toll.
Minister Ahmed Sameh Farid said it was only a preliminary count of civilians killed and did not include police or prisoners. And while Mubarak is gone, frustration with the quality of life — from working conditions to environmental concerns — has kept demonstrators in the streets as the economy continues to falter.
Airport employees protested for better pay Wednesday, textile workers went on strike to demand a corruption probe and residents of a Suez Canal city pressed for the closing of a chemical factory they say is dumping toxic waste into a lake.
The ruling military council issued its second statement in three days calling for an immediate halt to all labor actions. The new warning raised expectations of an outright ban on protests and strikes that could easily raise the tension between authorities and the protest movement.
"We urge citizens and members of professional and labor unions to go on with their jobs, each in their position," a text message sent to Egyptian cell phones from the military said.
So far, the warnings have been defied by people airing grievances everywhere over just about everything, from meager wages to police brutality and corruption.
One of the youth groups that helped organize the uprising tweeted Wednesday: "Strikes and protests should NOT stop." The group also promoted a planned march this Friday to Cairo's Tahrir Square, the democracy movement's key gathering point.
The council that took power from Mubarak, the result of the protests that began Jan. 25, says all the strikes and unrest are hampering efforts to salvage the economy and return the nation to normal life. Egypt's economy has been in virtual paralysis with the labor unrest, extended bank and stock market closures and an evaporation of tourism — a key source of income for the country.
Banks were closed Wednesday and will be again Thursday, the last day of the business week in Egypt. There was no word on whether they would reopen Sunday, the start of the business week.
The stock market has been closed for the past three weeks and, again, and it's uncertain when it will resume operating. The market lost nearly 17 percent of its value in two tumultuous sessions in late January before it was ordered shut to halt the slide.
While the economy sags, a wide array of groups are making it known they want change now.
Hundreds of airport employees protested inside the arrivals terminal at Cairo International Airport to press demands for better wages and health coverage. The protest did not disrupt flights.
In the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahallah al-Koubra, workers from Egypt's largest textile factory went on strike over pay and calls for an investigation into alleged corruption at the factory, according to labor rights activist Mustafa Bassiouni.
More than 60 women's and community groups condemned the new panel formed by the Armed Forces Supreme Council to amend Egypt's constitution, saying it is an all-male group which "excludes half of society."
"This casts doubt on the future of democratic transformation in Egypt after the revolution, and raises questions about ... whether the revolution was seeking to free the whole society or only certain segments," the statement said.
In Port Said, a coastal city at the northern tip of the Suez Canal, about 1,000 people demonstrated to demand that a chemical factory be closed because it was dumping waste in a lake near the city.
In the wake of protests Monday and Wednesday outside the office of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, a spokeswoman for the group said it has started giving each refugee a small, one-time payment to help with their immediate needs.
The refugees demonstrating at the UNHCR office on the outskirts of Cairo complained they have been stuck in Egypt for several years, sometimes as long as a decade. Wilkes said there are some 40,000 registered refugees in the country, many from East Africa.
The European Union said Wednesday that its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would visit Egypt next week after the Egyptian Foreign Ministry asked the international community for aid. Ashton, already in the region, would be the most senior foreign official to come to Cairo since Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster. Details of her visit and who she would meet while in Cairo were yet to be announced.
There was one crumb of good news for Egyptian authorities.
The country's chief archaeologist announced the recovery of three of 18 pieces reported missing from the famed Egyptian Museum during the anti-Mubarak uprising.
"God almighty saved the antiquities from this hell because God loves Egypt," Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass said.
Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael contributed to this story.