Saturday, March 12, 2011

Amid church burnings and murders, Copts bury their dead

CAIRO, March 10 (Reuters) - Thousands of Egyptian Christians attended an emotional funeral service on Thursday for people killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

Six coffins lay by a church altar during the ceremony, victims of the violence on Tuesday in which 13 people were killed and 140 wounded. A seventh coffin arrived later.

The strife poses another challenge to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which says it wants to hold elections within six months so it can relinquish power.

A new cabinet, meeting on Wednesday for the first time, decided it would redeploy on Thursday the police force which largely disintegrated in the first days of the uprising that swept Mubarak from the presidency last month and left the military in control.

"We will sacrifice our souls and our blood for the cross," a crowd of mourners chanted at the end of the service as they poured out of the Samaan al-Kharaz Church, built in a cave above the Cairo slum of Manshiet Nasr.


Some held aloft signs with slogans that included: "No to sectarianism, no to murder," and "Farewell to the martyrs of Christ."

The trouble on Tuesday began on a Cairo highway where Christians had been protesting over an arson attack on the church south of the capital.

A number of activists have called for a march on Friday from Cairo's central Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests that ousted Mubarak, to show solidarity with Egypt's Coptic Christians.

Many Egyptians took pride in the Christian-Muslim solidarity displayed during the revolution that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11 and hoped the uprising had buried tensions that have flared up with increasing regularity in recent years.

Twenty-three people were killed in a blast outside a church in Alexandria on New Year's Day, prompting protests by Christians that the state had failed to protect them.

It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday's violence were Christian and how many Muslim.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group and Egypt's best-organised political force, warned of attempts by remnants of Mubarak's regime "to ignite strife in these delicate circumstances".

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie called on Egyptians to stand in "one line to support the armed forces and the cabinet so they will be able to realise the demands of the revolution".


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