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Copts Mourn Victims in Cairo Protest

An Egyptian Christian woman shows a picture of her son during a funeral at Abassaiya Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo 10 Oct. At least 26 people, mostly Christians, were killed 9 Oct. when troops broke up a peaceful protest against an attack on a church in southern Egypt. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)  

11 Oct 2011 – by Catholic News Service

CAIRO (CNS) — Orthodox Pope Shenouda III declared three days of mourning, fasting and prayer for victims of peaceful protests that turned violent, and church and government leaders called for Egypt to reaffirm its commitment to religious freedom.

At least 26 people — mostly Christian — were killed and nearly 500 were injured Oct. 9 as gangs armed with firebombs, sticks, swords and rocks attacked about 1,000 people staging a peaceful sit-in outside of a state television building. As the violence escalated, a speeding military vehicle mounted a sidewalk and rammed into a group of protesters, killing a number of them.

Witnesses said headless bodies lay in the street in the worst sectarian violence since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in the “Arab Spring” revolt earlier this year.

But several Catholic leaders said the problem had moved beyond sectarianism.

“The army and the police are confronting the Copts. This is the problem,” Father Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, said in a statement to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “It is not a Christian-Muslim problem anymore. ... People — not just Christians but many Muslims, too — are frightened for the future of our country.

“We are accusing the army and the police who used vagabonds, a rabble force of street fighters, to attack the demonstrators,” the priest said


“They were armed with swords, sticks and stones —some of them had rifles, it seems,” he said. “They did not have to use force. It was a peaceful demonstration.”

Hardline Salafi Muslims have initiated violent protests against the construction of two churches in southern Egypt on the grounds that the building projects were illegal. Four churches have been subjected to arson attacks in as many months.

The Christian demonstrators were protesting one such attack on a Coptic Orthodox church and were seeking greater protection from the authorities.

Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza told Vatican Radio that Christians were asking to be able to live peacefully in their own country.

“If they (the police) had taken a position of being against those who destroyed the churches, we would never have gotten to this point,” he said.

Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, told Vatican Radio the situation was provoked by outsiders and added that it was complex.

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Tags: Egypt Arab Spring Coptic Christians Orthodox Pope Shenouda III