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Egypt exports down 6 percent: trade minister

By Sherine El Madany

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's exports fell six percent in January because of the mass protests and curfew, Trade Minister Samiha Fawzi Ibrahim said on Saturday.

Exports in January stood at 7.7 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.32 billion), down from 8.2 billion pounds, she said, without saying whether the comparison was with December or January 2010.

She was speaking at a news conference given by the prime minister, the main economic ministers and the central bank governor to give an assessment of their sectors' performance and priorities -- and show the government was operating as normal.

She said authorities were providing extra food supplies to stabilize prices in the market and avoid shortages.

Many shops have been closed during 12 days of protests against President Hosni Mubarak and banks have been shut, making it hard for Egyptians to stock up on basic goods. Witnesses have said that some prices have been pushed up.

"The policy to stabilize prices depends on supply and demand. And in order to reduce prices, supply needs to be increased," she said.

Ibrahim, one of the ministers brought in by a cabinet reshuffle during the countrywide protests to oust Mubarak, added that the ministry's plan to combat price rises was to increase the supply of commodities.

Finance Minister Samir Radwan said earlier that his ministry had allocated an extra 2.8 billion Egyptian pounds ($480 million) over the past two days to finance wheat purchases for Egypt, the world's biggest wheat importer.

Mubarak, who has also appointed a vice president for the first time and said he will not run for the presidency again, met some of the new ministers on Saturday -- a rebuff to the protesters who have demanded the 82-year-old leader step down.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said the fact that demonstrators were now calling for a "Week of Steadfastness" showed that the "Day of Departure" protests on Friday had failed.

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Cairo's Tahrir Square and in cities across Egypt to demand Mubarak quit.

"Those who are in Tahrir, their position today is different from their final position and even the great day yesterday which was called the 'Day of Departure' was quite clear that it was very much weaker than they were (expecting)," he said.

"... they called it afterwards the 'Week of Steadfastness', so they gave it different names after the 'Day of Departure' and they failed. So I think all that tends toward more stability."

Shafiq earlier met the new interior minister to ask for the swift return of full police operations across the country, the state news agency MENA said.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Wright and Dina Zayed; editing by Tim Pearce)

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