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Middle east

Egypt gets tough on security in wake of sectarian violence

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-09

Egypt’s military government vowed on Sunday to use an “iron hand” against those who "threaten national security", after clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo left at least 12 people dead and scores injured.

AFP - Egypt's military rulers warned Sunday they will use an "iron hand" to protect national security after clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo killed 12 people and injured scores.

Authorities would "strike with an iron hand all those who seek to tamper with the nation's security," Justice Minister Abdel Aziz al-Gindi told reporters after cabinet crisis talks.

Gindi said the government would "immediately and firmly implement the laws that criminalise attacks against places of worship and freedom of belief" using anti-terror laws to combat those "threatening national security."

The statement came at the end of nearly four hours of cabinet talks and after Egypt's military rulers had said 190 people detained in connection with the clashes would face military trial.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since a popular uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February, said the move was a "deterrent" to all those who sought to sow strife in the country.

Saturday's clashes in the working class neighbourhood of Imbaba in northwestern Cairo left 12 people dead and 232 injured, state television said.

Among those killed were four Christians and six Muslims, while two other bodies were still unidentified.

The two groups had clashed after Muslims attacked the Coptic Saint Mena church in Imbaba to free a Christian woman they alleged was being held against her will because she wanted to convert to Islam.

Since Mubarak was ousted, Egypt has been gripped by insecurity and sectarian unrest, amid -- by the government's admission -- a "counter-revolution" by remnants of the old regime aimed at sowing chaos.

"Egypt's people, the noble police and the great army are standing together to foil the counter-revolution," Gindi said.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the army blamed "forces of evil and darkness" for trying to "tear the national fabric."

In Imbaba -- an overcrowded maze of residential buildings and shops -- Muslim and Christian residents pleaded with the visiting interior minister, Mansur Essawy, to boost security on the streets, the official MENA news agency said.

The government has come under criticism for the shortage of police forces and lack of security but during his walkabout Essawy vowed to "improve security in the coming phase and bring back stability," MENA said.

Victims' families would be paid 5,000 Egyptian pounds (about $840) in compensation, and the injured would receive 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($336), said Ali Abdelrahman, the governor of Giza where Imbaba lies.

A curfew has been imposed in a the area around the Imbaba church until 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on Monday, state TV reported.

Egypt's mufti -- the government's chief interpreter of Islamic law -- Ali Gomaa condemned the clashes and said they "were toying with Egypt's national security."

Military police parked outside the church in Imbaba on Saturday fired their guns into the air as Christians in front of the church and Muslim protesters down the street hurled stones at each other.

The Muslims threw firebombs, one of them setting alight an apartment near the church.

Coptic protesters scuffled with soldiers, blaming them for not doing enough to protect them.

The soldiers advanced at Muslim protesters who edged closer to the church, firing over their heads to repel them. Special forces were later deployed outside the church.

Elsewhere in Imbaba, Muslim protesters threw firebombs at another church, setting it on fire, police officials said. They said the fire was put out.

At one of the cordons outside the St Mena church, Muslim protesters said they were first fired upon by the Copts, after they tried to find a Christian woman they say converted to Islam and was being held inside.

Copts, who account for up to 10 percent of the country's 80 million people, complain of discrimination and have been the targets of fairly regular sectarian attacks.

Claims that Christian women who converted to Islam were kidnapped and held in churches or monasteries have soured relations between the two communities for months.

Egypt's military rulers had warned on May 1 of strong measures against anyone inciting sectarian strife, in a bid to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it was "exerting all efforts to end sectarian disagreements on the Egyptian street to protect this nation."

The statement came after a series of Muslim-Christian clashes and amid the growing public presence of Salafis -- a puritanical Islamist sect -- since the fall of Mubarak after a wave of mass protests.

Date created : 2011-05-08


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