Egypt’s Military Rulers Order Investigation of Cairo Clashes

Posted October 10th, 2011 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Egypt's ruling military council has ordered the government to investigate the killings of at least 25 people in Sunday's deadly street battles between Coptic Christians and Egyptian security forces in Cairo.

The military council issued the order Monday after crisis talks on the country's worst violence since a February uprising that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak. The generals who took power from Mr. Mubarak also reiterated a pledge to hand power eventually to an elected civilian authority.

The battles began after more than 1,000 minority Coptic Christians and their supporters marched to Egypt's state television building in Cairo to protest a recent attack by Islamist radicals on a church in the country's south.

The protest turned violent, with demonstrators fighting police and soldiers guarding the building. Witnesses say armored vehicles rammed into protesters, killing several of them. Some people also threw rocks and gasoline bombs at security personnel.

Most of those killed were Coptic Christians. At least three soldiers also were among the dead. Hundreds of other people were wounded.

More violence erupted Monday outside a Cairo hospital where many of the wounded were taken for treatment, with hundreds of protesters throwing stones at security forces. Inside, Coptic women mourned dead family members.

The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama is “deeply concerned” about the loss of life and called for restraint on all sides. European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg Monday, also expressed alarm. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying he is “deeply saddened” by the violence.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's roughly 80 million people. Many Christians complain that Egypt's new leadership has been too lenient on Islamists they blame for a series of anti-Christian attacks since the Mubarak ouster.

Egypt's Orthodox Coptic Pope Shenouda issued a statement Monday, saying his community has suffered “repeated problems without accountability for the perpetrators.” He called on Christians to begin three days of fasting in the hope that peace will return.

In a nationally televised address late Sunday, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the violence had taken the country backward, instead of advancing towards a modern state based on democratic principles.

Egyptian authorities said they have arrested dozens of people for involvement in the unrest.