ASIANEWS REPORT: A peaceful demonstration attacked by thugs and the army. Tank deployed, crushing some of the demonstrators. Christians and moderate Muslims accuse the army of pandering to fundamentalists. Curfew imposed. Anti-Christian violence "advertising" for extremists ahead of political November elections.
Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - 24 dead and 212 wounded, this is the toll after violent clashes between Coptic Christians and security forces last night in Cairo. A curfew was imposed throughout the night, which ended at 7 this morning.
The violence erupted during a demonstration held by Coptic Egyptians and others, condemning the attack by Muslim extremists against a church in Aswan, aggravated by police and the governor inertia.
The Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, after visiting the site of the clash, said that "the greatest threat to national security is the manipulation of national unity and return to discord between Muslims and Christians." This violence - he added - "threatens the relationship between citizens and the army."
In reality, the violence was sparked by the army. Thousands of Christians - but not only - marched from the district of Shubra to the headquarters of state television, demanding the resignation of the governor of Aswan, guilty of covering up for alleged Islamic extremists. They also denounced the state television of inciting anti-Christian sentiments.
At one point the demonstrators were attacked by a group of plainclothes thugs who began throwing stones and shooting. Christians responded by throwing stones and the army, in response attacked the demonstration. A military vehicle charged some of the demonstrators and crushed them. The Christians then burned some police cars. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd, the demonstrators threw stones and anything they could throw at them.
According to the Ministry of Health, among the 212 wounded 107 are civilians and 84 police.
Since the fall of Mubarak, thanks to the sit-in in Tahrir Square, held by Christians and Muslims together, there has been a crescendo of attacks against Christians by Islamic fundamentalist forces.
The army seems unable to contain the violence, but more often seems inclined to defend the extremists rather than Christians.
Last night the Christians demanded the resignation of the military council and its president, gen. Mohamed Tantawi.
The anti-Christian violence appears to be part of a campaign to increase the consensus of the Islamic parties in the lead up to the political elections on 28 November. Local sources told AsiaNews that there is a plan to drive Christians from Egypt or at least to reduce them to a minority subject.
The Christians in Egypt, the country's original population, constitute 10% of the population. They suffer from exclusion from public office and limits on freedom of religion, both in the construction of churches and in the freedom of evangelization and conversion.