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Clashes in Cairo leave 19 dead, 183 injured

Xinhua | Updated: 2011-10-10 09:12

Clashes in Cairo leave 19 dead, 183 injured

Egyptian Christians clash with soldiers and riot police during a protest in Cairo October 9, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

CAIRO - Clashes between protestors and security forces in downtown Cairo left 19 dead and 183 injured on Sunday, raising new concerns about Egypt's security and stability ahead of parliamentary elections.

Thousands of protesters blocked the main street in front of Egypt's state television building and threw stones and bottles at soldiers and police on Sunday evening. Some cars were burnt. After the clashes, a curfew was imposed in downtown Cairo from 2 am (0000 GMT) to 7 am (0500 GMT), state TV said.

The state TV said earlier that three soldiers were shot dead by protestors and more than 30 others were injured.

Egyptian health officials said the injured people were suffering gunshots or burns. This was one of the most violent clashes that ever happened after the mass anti-government protests in late January which led to the fall of ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

"I arrived at the site at 6:30 in the evening. I saw many people gathered here to confront with soldiers and police," a protestor told Xinhua at the scene.

"Then clashes occurred between soldiers and protestors. They used tear gas to disperse the crowds who threw stones and petrol bombs at them," said the protestor. He said as a Muslim he hoped to live peacefully with the Copts.

The injured soldiers affirmed that the protestors used weapons to attack them while they didn't have any live ammunition or get any orders to shoot at the crowds.

Minor clashes between Muslims and Copts were reported in Cairo and some other places after the violence.

In a statement issued on his official Facebook page, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf condemned the violence and urged Egyptians to keep united against attempts to create chaos.

"The clashes currently taking place in front of the Maspero building are not between Muslims and Christians. Rather, they are attempts to provoke chaos in the country and stir sectarian clashes," Sharaf said. He called on Egyptians to stay united against "vandalizing forces."

Sharaf called for calm and responsibility for the security of both citizens and the country. He would hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the situation.

Coptic Christians demanded that Aswan provincial governor Moustafa el-Sayed step down over attacks on a church in the Marinap village in Aswan.

El-Sayed said recently that the number of Copts in the Marinap village is small so that it's not worth building a church for them because there is a church two kilometers away, which angered the Copts.

The Copts in the village rebuilt an old building into a church with no official permission, which angered the village's Muslim residents who attempted to destroy the church. The incident caused new tension between the two religious groups.

A group of Muslims started to demolish the church after Friday prayers on September 30. The security forces interfered after a small wall and two cement pillars were destroyed.

The protesters urged to bring the criminals who tried to destroy the church to jail, and make a law to provide equal rights on building worshipping houses for the two religious groups who currently need to meet different requirements when building their own worshipping places in the country.

A number of political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned the clashes.

Copts account for about one tenth of Egypt's total population. There has been sporadic tension between Coptic Christians and Muslims over the building of churches or other affairs in the Muslim-dominated country.

The clashes came as Egyptians are bracing for parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28.

Akrm Houssam, a researcher with Egypt's National Center for Middle East Studies, said the clashes were one of the most serious events after the January 25 mass protests.

There were some forces abroad who wanted to see Egypt in a bad situation, he said. But internal problems which the governments failed to solve were also blamed for the clashes, said the analyst in an interview with Xinhua. Minority Copts have often complained that they are discriminated in the country in their rights such as building churches.

However, the analyst did not think the situation would turn worse. "I believe all Egyptian parties, including Muslims, Copts, the government and the ruling military council, are all aware of the dangers of escalation of violence. The army forces have the capabilities to put the situation under control and hold the elections as planned," he said.

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