Egypt sectarian clashes flare anew


CAIRO - Six Coptic Christians were shot dead and at least 45 were injured in religious clashes with Muslims in the Egyptian capital, a Coptic priest said on Wednesday.
Another Coptic Christian was killed in clashes with Muslims in Cairo on Tuesday, the same day at least 1,000 Christians gathered there to protest the burning of a church last week, a hospital official said.
The death of Mina Fares Hanna occurred in the poor working-class district of Moqattam, but no further details were immediately available.
Fighting broke out mid-afternoon when dozens of Muslims showed up in Moqattam, inhabited by Copts who work as garbage collectors and who had blocked a main north-south artery in the capital.
People threw rocks from both sides and witnesses said soldiers at the scene fired shots into the air to disperse the crowds.
"The armed forces are successfully tackling the riots in the Moqattam and Qualaa neighbourhoods," the state MENA news agency quoted an official it did not identify as saying.
Earlier on Tuesday, Copts had protested in central Cairo against the burning of a church south of the capital after deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims, state television said.
The protest outside the radio and television building came a day after at least 2,000 angry Christians demanded the re-building of the torched church, and that those responsible be brought to justice.
The Shahedain (Two Martyrs) church, in the Helwan provincial city of Sol, was set fire on Friday after clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims that left two people dead.
The violence was triggered by a feud between two families, which disapproved of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman in Sol.
"Problems escalated in the village when a group of Muslims headed to the burned out church and conducted a mass Islamic prayer there," Maged Ibrahim, a Christian resident told Egyptian state television.
On Monday, Egypt's ruling military council vowed to have the church rebuilt and to prosecute those behind the arson attack.
There is a long history of animosity between Copts and Muslims in Egypt, though there have been recent signs of a rapprochement following a deadly New Year's Day bombing of a church in Alexandria and during the recent popular revolt that unseated long-time president Hosni Mubarak.
Twenty-one people died and dozens more were wounded when what was believed to be a suicide bomb blew himself up just after midnight on New Year's as worshippers left a church in Alexandria.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after an Al-Qaeda-linked group said it was behind a deadly October 31 Baghdad church hostage-taking and threatened Coptic Christians as well.
But as Copts celebrated their Christmas on January 7, thousands of Muslims gathered at churches across the country, forming human chains to protect them as they worshipped.
And during anti-Mubarak protests in Cairo in January, there were also cases of Copts doing the same for Muslims as they prayed in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million population, complain of systematic discrimination and have been the target of several sectarian attacks.
There are around 7,000 Christians in Sol, out of a total population of 50,000.