It stressed that it will be business as usual on Sunday at all public institutions, including schools and factories.

Internet campaign

The calls for a general strike have spread over the past week through the internet and text messages.

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A group called "April 6" on the social networking website Facebook has attracted more than 64,000 members.

It is unclear who initiated the call to expand the strike beyond the 25,000 employees of the textile plant in the central city of Mahalla.

The messages have urged people to stay home from work, avoid shopping, wear black clothes and hang the Egyptian flag from windows and balconies in a show of support for the strikers.

The opposition Kefaya movement - Arabic for "Enough" - has called for a sit-in against the price hikes across Egypt's 26 provinces, George Ishak, one of its leaders, told the AFP news agency.

'Political discussion'

The UN's World Food Programme said earlier this month that average household expenditure in Egypt had risen by 50 per cent since the start of the year.

Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the Al-Destour newspaper, wrote: "The people have decided to talk, and it's a political discussion."

Strikes and demonstrations are illegal in Egypt under the country's emergency law.

The country's most powerful opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, on Thursday threw its support behind the strikers.

The planned protests would come just two days ahead of municipal elections.