Egypt’s Military Defends Handling of Deadly Copt Protest

Posted October 12th, 2011 at 10:50 am (UTC-5)
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Egyptian military officials have denied reports that troops opened fire on Coptic Christian protesters on Sunday, during an incident that marked the country's worst violence since former President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in February.

In a Wednesday news conference, military officials also denied reports that soldiers in armored vehicles deliberately ran over protesters.

However, videos of military armored vehicles plowing through Christian protesters and images of their flattened bodies are fueling rage against Egypt's ruling army generals, even beyond the country's Coptic community. Activists accuse the military of instigating sectarian hatred as a way to end protests and halt criticism.

Twenty-six people were killed on Sunday after clashes erupted between security forces, Muslims and Coptic Christians who were demonstrating in Cairo.

The unrest began after more than 1,000 Copts marched to the state television building in protest of a recent attack by Islamist radicals on a Coptic church in the country's south.

An Egyptian general who spoke at Wednesday's news conference said the troops who were guarding the police station did not have live ammunition. He accused protesters of inciting the unrest — a charge the Copts have denied.

The fallout from the violence prompted Egyptian deputy prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi to submit his resignation on Tuesday. However, the country's military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, rejected the move.

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