CAIRO Thousands of Egyptian riot police and conscripts have gone on strike to demand the interior minister's resignation, saying he is too close to the country's Islamist leadership, security sources said on Wednesday.
The action takes place after security forces and anti-government demonstrators have clashed in the capital and other cities. At least 59 people were killed in protests between January 25, second anniversary of the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, and February 4.
The strikers, mostly conscripts but led by police officers, say Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim is "in thrall to the Islamist president" and must resign, said a general at the Cairo security directorate, who declined to give his name.
Another officer also told Reuters that Ibrahim, who is a general, was too close to President Mohamed Mursi.
They were also upset that he had directed the state security force to protect the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's dominant political group.
The Interior Ministry confirmed that some police officers and soldiers were on strike and said it had told commanders to listen to their demands.
The ministry said the cause of the strike was that riot police erroneously believed the government planned to ban demonstrations which would pitch them into confrontation with protesters.
Pro-opposition daily Al Masry Al Youm splashed pictures of a rare police demonstration on its front page on Wednesday. It said officers were protesting against the "Brotherhoodisation" of the ministry and demanding legal changes and danger money for having to deal with political violence.
A police major, who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said: "Ibrahim is not neutral and has given orders to police to guard the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"He does not work to represent the interests of his personnel," the major said.
The riot police feel they are dragged into politics by being forced to confront protesters during mass rallies, he said.
"This ends up stoking hatred between the ministry and the people," the major said.
The strikes have spread to state security camps in Daqahliya, Gharbiya, Sharqiya, Menya and Damietta provinces, the security sources said.
The Interior Ministry has been at the forefront of clashes involving protesters, mainly young, who complain that Mursi has done little to reform the police since Mubarak was ousted two years ago.
Police and security officials were involved in the torture of detainees in the Mubarak era, according to human rights groups and activists.
Police reform was a demand of the 2011 revolution but no police officer has been punished for the deaths of around 850 protesters during the uprising.
Both the general and the major said the riot police personnel have demanded that former Interior Minister General Ahmed Gamal be reinstated as he was more neutral.
On Tuesday, hundreds of policemen demonstrated outside the security directorate in the port city of Alexandria, most wearing civilian clothes, to demand that Ibrahim step down.
"The people demand the reform of the Interior Ministry," they chanted. "Leave, leave, Ibrahim!"
Video footage circulated earlier this month showed a protester beaten and dragged naked across the ground by policemen during a protest in front of the presidential palace.
(Reporting by Marwa Awad, Abdel Rahman Youssef and Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Paul Taylor and Angus MacSwan)