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Ministry on fire amid Egypt protest

Fire has swept through the upper floors of Egypt's Interior Ministry building as policemen protested outside to demand higher pay.

A security official accused demonstrators of starting the blaze in the centre of Cairo.

TV footage showed flames climbing the top floors of the building and a huge plume of black smoke filling the sky. Later, firefighters on tall ladders sprayed water to extinguish the fire.

One protester denied they had lit the fire and accused those inside of setting if off by burning security files to get rid of evidence of police abuses.

Many Egyptians still associate the Interior Ministry's security forces with the worst excesses of the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Earlier this month, protesters rallied outside State Security offices across the nation, storming some of them in a search of evidence of human rights violations.

Tuesday's protest outside the ministry, however, was held by policemen themselves. They want a minimum salary of $200 a month - much more than many get now - and other benefits, including improved health care.

The mass demonstrations that toppled Mubarak on February 11 have set off frequent protests by labourers, including police officers, seeking to improve their lot.

The security official said protesters lit the fire in the building housing in the ministry's personnel department. It then spread to an adjacent communications building.

One protester who arrived to see fires burning in the two buildings said it couldn't have been started by the crowd because they had no way of entering the heavily guarded compound. He accused workers inside of burning security files and starting the blaze.

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