Damietta protesters show determination as controversial factory keeps working

DAMIETTA — Hundreds of protesters demonstrating against expansions to a factory in this Mediterranean port city are maintaining their sit-in for an eighth day, even after clashes with security forces on Sunday left one demonstrator dead.

Meanwhile, the factory appears to be operating despite government announcements that it is to be shut down.

The sit-in, which has closed Damietta’s main roads, is against the Misr Oil Processing Company (MOPCO) factory, which residents say pollutes their town’s water.

Islam Amin Abu Abdallah, a 21-year-old protester, was killed by a bullet to the chest on Sunday, according to an official document written by the forensic doctor who examined the body.

On Sunday night, tens of thousands of protesters gathered for Abu Abdallah’s funeral, chanting against the army and the government.

Following the clashes and in a move to ease the protesters’ concerns, Egypt’s ruling military council ordered the fertilizer plant to halt its work.

Mohamed Ali Feleifal, governor of Damietta, said on Sunday that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) made the order after hours of bloody clashes between the army and protesters.

But on Monday, scores of protesters gathered close to the port, pointing at the smoke that could be clearly seen from the chimneys of the factory.

Protesters have said that the factory wasn’t closed, as the officials had announced on Sunday.

Saber Suleiman, a driver from Kafer Saad city, a nearby town, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that he is responsible for driving the MOPCO factory workers to their morning shifts.

“Today [Monday] I drove workers to the factory as usual, but I took an alternative road due to the closure of all main roads to the port. Workers told me that the work hasn’t stopped in the factory,” Suleiman said.

Protesters say they are furious that the plant is still operating and they will continue their protests until it is closed. On Monday, governorate Security Director General Tarek Hamad announced that the army had released all the detainees from Sunday’s clashes. That also failed to convince protesters to call off their sit-in.

But their dwindling numbers might pose a challenge.

“We are few now but this is because people are really tired because of what happened [Sunday]. Also, they are shocked by the treatment by the army,” said Ayman Nasser, a university student.

Meanwhile, residents of the area say they have suffered from shortages of basic commodities due to the blocking of roads to the city.
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