Fire tears through Egypt Interior Ministry building

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 22, 2011 1:20 PM

CAIRO (Reuters) - Fire tore through an Egyptian Interior Ministry building in central Cairo on Tuesday and a ministry source said it was probably linked to a protest by police demanding the minister's resignation.

Ambulances and at least five fire engines raced to the scene of the blaze, which appeared to have ripped through all seven storeys of the building, part of an Interior Ministry compound in central Cairo.

It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

The military had earlier cordoned off the building to protect it from the police protesters, the state news agency reported. The protesters numbered about 3,000, witnesses said.

The demonstrators' demands included better pay and conditions. Since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled, policemen have staged strikes and protests to press similar demands.

The police protesters had held aloft signs reading: "Where is social justice for policemen?" and "We want the cancellation of military trials," reflecting police fears that they will face prosecution for police violations under Mubarak.

Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy was appointed as part of a cabinet reshuffle that purged remaining members Mubarak's administration.

Essawy met representatives of the protesters and promised to work to resolve their demands, the state news agency reported.

"It is likely to be related to the protests, but it is not the building of the ministry itself that is on fire," an Interior Ministry source told Reuters, as flames and a column of black smoke billowed up over the center of the city.

The source did not elaborate.

Oussama Mohammed, a witness, said: "I saw the protesters they were standing peacefully. Nobody was doing anything and all of a sudden I saw explosion of fire at the roof top."

In February, about six vehicles were set on fire outside the Interior Ministry. Egypt's military rulers sentenced the suspected arsonists, sacked policemen demanding reinstatement, to jail terms in military prison.

Since Essawy's appointment, the ministry has announced the dissolution of the hated state security agency, whose reputation for brutality helped ignite the revolt against Mubarak.

(Reporting by Dina Zayed and Sarah Mikhail, Writing by Edmund Blair/Tom Perry, Editing by Tim Pearce and Sonya Hepinstall)