By Dina Zayed
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf vowed Saturday to press a fight against corruption, responding to public pressure to speed up investigations into alleged graft by allies of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
He also defended a draft law banning strikes, denying criticism from human rights groups that it curtails freedom of expression and the right to protest.
Prosecutors have been investigating graft allegations against former officials and businessmen after an uprising toppled Mubarak last month, but many Egyptians protest that several of the former leader's allies have yet to be arrested.
"The government has not and will not cover up corruption regardless of its nature or identity. We will stamp it out no matter where it is. That is a vow from the government to the people of this nation," Sharaf said in a televised statement.
"There is no place for those who were the enemies of the January 25 revolution in this new era," he said.
The cabinet was formed by Egypt's interim military rulers to try to meet protesters' demands for the removal of officials linked to Mubarak.
Sharaf said the cabinet had been successful in its first three weeks. It had overseen the first free and fair vote, redeployed police forces, dissolved Egypt's state security apparatus and started trading in the stock exchange, he said.
But human rights groups have criticized it for approving a draft law, valid as long as Egypt's state of emergency is in force, that bans strikes for damaging the economy. It extends to those who organize strikes.
Human Rights Watch said it was a betrayal of Egypt's revolution and curtailed the people's right to demonstrate.
"It is quite shocking, really, that a transitional government meant to replace a government ousted for its failure to respect free speech and assembly is now itself putting new restrictions on free speech and assembly," the group said.
Sharaf denied the law would mean a restriction of freedoms: "You are the ones who move us forward, so how can some of you think that we may deny you of a legitimate right that is guaranteed by the law."
The cabinet has to tread a fine line as it works to meet the expectations of workers while restarting an economy that nearly ground to a halt during weeks of protests, analysts say.
Sharaf, whose government faces a growing budget deficit, has said continued protests and strikes were a "continued distraction" from the real task of rebuilding the country.
"We are trying to protect the revolution. Let us put our hands together," Sharaf said. "We cannot achieve protecting the revolution without cooperation and pushing the wheel of production forward."
(editing by Elizabeth Piper)