Egyptian Coptic protester killed in police clash

08:28, November 25, 2010      

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Hundreds of Egyptian Coptic Christians clashed separately with the police in Cairo early Wednesday in protest against the freeze of building a church, leaving one protester killed.

More than 3,000 Christian protestors gathered in Cairo's Giza Governorate, rallying for the third day running to protest the refusal of the authorities to allow them to finish building a new church in Giza's district of al-Omraniya, according to the official MENA news agency.

Witnesses said the security force broke into the church at 4 a. m. (0200 GMT), and then Copts clashed with the police. Protesters tried to storm the office building of Giza Governorate and blocked the Al-Ahram street, Giza's main road for two hours.

"They broke into the church while people were praying," claimed Michael George, an eye witness.

Protestors hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police and smashed cars. Some buildings around the Giza governorate's office and public property were damaged.

Security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and arrested nearly 100 protesters.

A 19-year-old Christian student, Makarious Gad Shaker, died of the wounds sustained in his thigh shortly after he was carried to a hospital for treatment.

More than 60 protesters and policemen were injured in scuffles, including Giza security deputy chief, according to a medical source in the hospital.

Giza Governor Sayyid Abdel-Aziz said in a press conference that the situation in the governorate was totally under control.

Coptic Christians were frustrated after the al-Omraniya district administration decided to freeze their decision to turn a community center into a church, claiming that the Christians violated the building permit.

"The problem occurred when some people tried to turn a service building of a church in al-Omraniya district into a new church in violation of its license," said Abdel-Aziz.

He added that he informed some Christian leaders of his readiness to help them with the issuing of a new license for the service building, but they have to stop any construction work at the site immediately.

In a press statement, the Ministry of Information's press center said "they had previously been ordered to cease construction due to violations of building and because they were attempting to illegally transform the building into a church."

"The protest is harmful, and it provides a space for those who hold personal agenda to implement it against Egypt," Nabil Luka Bebawy, the head of media and culture committee in the People's Assembly told Xinhua.

Bebawy added that to get the administration's approval did not necessarily need protests but to follow the necessary legal path.

Orthodox Copts account for about 10 percent of Egypt's nearly 80 million population and conflicts between Christians and Muslims happen sometimes in Egypt.

Christians often complain about being discriminated against in the Islamic country, saying they are not given the same freedom for building churches as Muslims building mosques.

Official sources inside the Orthodox Church told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that those who took part in the riot will be judged by the Coptic court as they broke Pope Shenouda's orders.

Egypt's Pope Shenouda III urged priests to prohibit non- religious gatherings, protests or conferences inside or near churches and auxiliary buildings, except under the full supervision of church authorities, which was not the case on Wednesday.

"The way the security dealt with this incident is the reason why it heated up," Kaml Zakher, a Coptic intellectual told Xinhua.

At the same time, Naguib Gobrael, a Coptic lawyer and head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization described the police's use of violence against copts as "criminal" in local press.

He confirmed that he will file a complaint to the prosecutor general to start investigation.

These clashes came few days after Muslims set fire to houses owned by the family of a Coptic man who was said to had an affair with a Muslim girl in southern Egypt.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:李牧(实习))

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