Fattah jailed for group protesting food prices

BAGHDAD Egyptian authorities have freed a woman detained earlier this April for creating a group on Facebook that called for protests over food price hikes.

Esra Abdel Fattah was ordered freed by Interior Minister Habib al-Adli after her mother appealed directly to President Hosni Mubarak, the security official said.

“She is free. They have released her from the women’s prison in Qantar,” her lawyer Emir Salem told news agency AFP. He said he had not yet seen her but was planning to celebrate her release.

Fattah, 27, was among several bloggers, including Mohammed Sharkawi and Malak Mustafa, arrested ahead of what was supposed to be a nationwide protest on April 6.

Egyptian police took her from a Cairo coffee shop a week before the planned day of action. Her Facebook group had 64,000 members, but observation of the day of protest was sporadic.

Instead, protests focused on the Nile Delta city of Mahalla, where three people were killed by police after clashes erupted when demonstrators pulled down posters of Mubarak.

Mahalla became a flashpoint for popular protests by workers and residents against low wages and skyrocketing prices of food staples. A strike there in 2006 led to a wave of industrial action around the country.

Police used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against stone-throwing youths chanting anti-government slogans and demanding an end to rampant inflation that has seen the price of some staples double in recent months.

Another Facebook group has since been set up calling for a nationwide day of protest at price hikes on May 4, Mubarak’s 80th birthday.

The group calls for “a day of civil disobedience and wearing black in mourning for the victims of Mahalla and the death of Egyptian and Arab media.”

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