At least 24 killed as violence erupts in Cairo
At least 24 people were killed in Cairo yesterday when Christians, some carrying crosses and pictures of Jesus, clashed with military police, in the latest sectarian flare-up in a country in political turmoil.
Christians protesting against an attack on a church threw rocks and petrol bombs and set cars on fire in some of the most violent scenes since an uprising ousted ex-President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Protests later spread to the central Tahrir Square, the focal point of the February uprising. Witnesses said the army had moved into the area.
State television and sources said 150 people were injured, without saying how many of them were protesters.
It had previously said three of those killed were soldiers.
Medical and security sources have said that at least 24 people were killed.
Tensions between Christians and Muslims have increased since the February uprising.
The latest violence comes just weeks before a parliamentary election on November 28, the first such vote since Mr Mubarak was ousted.
Egypt's government has appealed for calm. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said he had contacted security and church authorities to contain the situation.
"The only beneficiary of these events and acts of violence are the enemies of the January revolution and the enemies of the Egyptian people, both Muslim and Christian," he said on his Facebook page.
Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt's roughly 80 million people, took to the streets after blaming Muslim radicals for partially demolishing a church in Aswan province last week.
They also demanded the sacking of the province's governor for failing to protect the building.
Four vehicles were set ablaze and TV footage showed protesters breaking windows of parked cars and army personnel carriers driving full speed towards crowds of protesters.
Gun shots were heard. It was unclear who was shooting.
"We were marching peacefully," said Talaat Youssef, a 23-year old Christian trader.
Thousands of Christians protested in Cairo and Alexandria yesterday over the attack.
The protesters want the government to fire the governor of Aswan Province, Mostafa al-Sayed, after the partial demolition of the church on Friday.
Egyptian media said Muslims were accused of attacking the church after talk spread in the town that the building did not have legal authorisation.
In May, 12 people were killed in sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims after rumours circulated that Christians were holding a woman who had converted to Islam.
The incident led the country's ruling military council to order the drafting of new laws to criminalise sectarian violence and ease restrictions on building churches.
Egyptian officials called for calm.
"We need unity more than any other time before," Information Minister Osama Heikal told state television.