CAIRO Egypt's military-backed government approved draft laws Wednesday to impose prison sentences over some strike action and open the way for new political parties to be formed, the cabinet office said.
Allowing new political parties was a key promise by army leaders who oversaw the formation of Egypt's transition government after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak last month in a popular revolt.
The revolt sparked a wave of strikes by factory workers and bank and public sector employees.
Most of the strikes have abated but some postal workers, police officers, hospital staff and other employees continue to demonstrate for better pay and conditions.
The government said the strikes must stop because it had already responded to the demands and was studying others.
"The government is working on a new policy to deal with employment and wages and in this context the cabinet has approved a draft law that would penalise some cases of protest and strikes," the cabinet said in a statement.
The law, which would be valid as long as Egypt's decades old emergency law remains in force, would apply to strikes that disrupt business, and would extend to people who incite the protests, the cabinet said.
Egypt's interim military had promised to lift emergency laws, a key demand of the protest movement that ousted Mubarak.
In the cabinet draft, fines could run as high as 500,000 Egyptian pounds ($84,060) for those charged.
The military had promised to lift restrictions on the formation of political parties after amendments to the constitution were approved in a referendum Saturday.
The cabinet said the amendments would uphold a ban on parties that discriminate by religion, gender, ethnic background, race or language.
Parties must be open about their funding and organisation and would need the signatures of 1,000 founding members from at least 10 provinces across the country, it said.
New parties must give notice to a committee formed by a top judge and two members of Egypt's State Council and would not be allowed to receive donations from foreigners or foreign governments, the cabinet added.
(Reporting by Dina Zayed; Additional reporting by Ashraf Badr; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer)