Egypt Labor Unrest
© Associated PressJobless archeology graduates protest in demand of jobs in the Egyptian museum, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday …

At least 1,500 Egyptian workers from the Suez Canal Authority protested for better pay Thursday in three cities straddling the strategic waterway, one of the world's major transit routes for shipping and oil transport.

Though the action raised concerns that labor unrest along Suez could escalate, the workers vowed their protest would not disrupt traffic through the waterway - the only direct passage linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. About 7.5 percent of world sea trade passes through the canal, the shortest route between Europe and Asia. Suez is a major source of revenue for Egypt, used to transport more than one million barrels of crude oil daily, or almost 6 percent of world oil supply.

The Suez protests are part of growing labor unrest rekindled by the 18-day uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak on Friday. Strikes and protests are deepening economic malaise, compounded by weeks of bank closures that are hampering business operations and the drying up of tourism - a major money earner for Egypt.

With strike pressure building, the country's new military rulers have appealed for calm. They say they need to be able to ensure security in order to move ahead with the rapid democratic reforms protesters are demanding.

But they have run into repeated problems. Aside from the strikes, they face security challenges and a measure of distrust by some in Egypt who question how committed the new leaders are to reform.

Criticism of the military's handling of the transition is on the rise. Amnesty International on Thursday published testimony from two detainees alleging they were tortured by the military while they were in custody in the days before Mubarak was ousted. The London-based human rights group urged the military to end the abuses of detainees.

The military was deployed in Egypt on Jan. 28 to try to restore security as police disappeared from the streets amid the mass protests. One key now is to secure vital installations. Bombings targeting a natural gas pipeline on Feb. 5 halted the flow of natural gas to Israel and Jordan.

Fearing a repeat of what some officials described at the time as sabotage, security forces have deployed along a pipeline in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula that carries natural gas to Israel, security officials said.

The area - long known for resistance to government control - has witnessed a security void during the unrest surrounding uprising that began Jan. 25.

Armed groups have bombed the state security building in Rafah on the border with the Palestinian territory of Gaza. They attacked and lit fire to police stations and other government facilities throughout the region.

Security and hospital officials say about 35 people have been killed in the clashes, two-thirds of them police.

Northern Sinai is home to Bedouin tribes who resist government control. Officials say tribesmen have joined forces with Islamic militants, some of whom escaped from prisons during the uprising.

The security officials said Thursday that soldiers have been taking up positions along the pipeline since Tuesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Associated Press correspondents Sarah El Deeb and Hamza Hendawi contributed.