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Egypt to use iron hand to halt religious unrest after 12 die.

Summary: Egypt's government warned Sunday it would use an "iron hand" to ensure national security after clashes in Cairo between Muslims and Christians killed 12 people and injured scores.

CAIRO: Egypt's government warned Sunday it would use an "iron hand" to ensure national security after clashes in Cairo between Muslims and Christians 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 the Cabinet held crisis talks.

Gindi said the government would "immediately and firmly implement the laws that criminalize 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 Imbaba neighborhood in northwestern Cairo left 12 people dead and 232 injured, state television said. Among those killed were four Christians and six Muslims.

Two other bodies were still unidentified.

The two groups had clashed after Muslims attacked the Coptic Saint Mena Church in Imbaba in a bid 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."

Scuffles broke out Sunday afternoon between some 400 protesters denouncing the sectarian clashes and dozens of "neighborhood thugs," a security official said.

Muslim and Christian protesters gathered in front of Cairo's High Court ahead of a march for national unity in the center of the city when they were pelted with stones by dozens of men from a nearby neighborhood.

The two groups clashed, throwing stones and rocks at each other before dispersing. The protesters regrouped outside the headquarters of the state television network, where their numbers began to swell.

By Sunday evening, thousands of Copts were demonstrating, blocking traffic in Cairo's bustling city center, surrounded by riot police.

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.

Families of those killed would be paid about $840 in compensation, and the injured would receive $336, said Ali Abdelrahman, the governor of Giza, in whose province Imbaba lies.

A curfew has been imposed in the area around the Imbaba church until 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) 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 Saturday and 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.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:May 9, 2011
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