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Cautious calm in Egypt after church shootings.

Byline: Ramadan Al Sherbini

Cairo Four days after a deadly attack on a church in an upper Egyptian town, police are keeping a high profile in Naja Hamad and its surroundings, rocked by violent rioting in the aftermath of the slaying of six Coptic Christians, local witnesses said yesterday.

"Stores and schools in the town are open under a close watch of police as security trucks are stationed in main streets," Hadi Fareed, a resident in the town, told Gulf News by phone.

Egypt's Chief Prosecutor Abdul Majuid Mahmoud has ordered that three local Muslim men be kept in police custody for 15 days on charges of attacking a crowd of church-goers with machine guns following a midnight Mass to mark the Coptic Christmas on January 6. The attack left seven, including a Muslim guard, dead and triggered anger among the Coptic minority, some of whom accused the security agencies of laxity.

"The attack was related to the rape of a 12-year-old Muslim girl by a Coptic man last November. I wondered why the police did not take enough measures, especially as the culture of vendetta is rife in Upper Egypt," said Samir Ghattas, a Coptic human rights advocate. He added that scores of local Coptic families had fled the town for fear of retaliation following the rape incident.

A large number of local Christians gathered outside a church in Naja Hamadi, Qena, around 600 kilometres south of Cairo, at the weekend after a rumour had it that the Virgin Mary appeared in tears above the church. Police had to disperse the angry Copts for fear of renewed clashes between them and the Muslims. Qena, one of Egypt's poorest areas, has a Coptic governor, Majdi Ayoub.

Coptic residents have said that the prime suspect in the attack, Hamam Al Kamuni, is an ex-convict protected by a member of President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party in the town. The government has denied the claim and said the attack was an isolated act, which would be punished severely.

Dismissal demanded

Around 20 Muslim and Coptic human rights activists have, meanwhile, filed a complaint with the Chief Prosecutor to demand the sacking of Interior Minister Habib Al Adli for alleged security laxity. "Coptic and Muslim victims of this incident denounce the Minister of Interior and the security troops, who are responsible for protecting churches and Copts," George Ishaq, a Coptic activist, said. Still, Ishaq objected to demands made by some Egyptian Christians for international intervention. "The issue is purely Egyptian and must be resolved at home," he said.

flare-ups

sources of contention

Occasional tensions between Copts and the Muslim majority are triggered by disputes over building places of worship and conversions.

Christians complain about restrictions imposed by the government on building new churches or renovating existing ones.

Egypt suffered its worst Christian-Muslim clashes in January 2000, when 20 Christians were killed, 22 others wounded and scores of shops destroyed in sectarian strife in the village of Kosheh in southern Egypt.

In 2006, a Muslim man stabbed a Coptic Christian man to death and wounded five others in the coastal city of Alexandria. The attack, blamed on a mentally ill man, sparked three days of sectarian clashes in which one Muslim was killed.

u R.A.S.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Jan 12, 2010
Words:559
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