Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two dead after Coptic protest against withholding permit to build church in Giza

One Coptic protesters died and scores more were wounded in clashes on Wednesday between police and Copts over a decision to stop construction of a church in Giza. Approximately 2000 Copts attempted to break into the Giza Governorate headquarters, while others attacked police and security vehicles, according to security officials.
Security repulsed the attempted infiltration, the officials said, adding that police have arrested 100 protesters and dispatched thousands of forces to Omraneyya and Talbeyya in southern Giza to prevent the spread of unrest.
Thousands of Copts organized a protest on Tuesday in rejection of the Giza Governorate decision to stop construction of the church. Officials said the building did not possess the appropriate permit. They said that building authorization was approved for a service center, not a church.
Protests resumed on Wednesday with demonstrators hurling stones and bottles at security personnel, after they had marched towards the offices of the governorate in Omraneyya. Security used tear gas and also live ammunition to disperse the Coptic protesters.

Update 26/11: The 19-year old Makarios Gad Shaker was shot in the chest during this last demonstration and was pronounced dead on arrival in hospital. Al Ahram reports on Friday that also a second protester died in hospital. Police kept 156 people in custody, pending investigations into several charges, including the attempted murder of the assistant head of Giza security. Other charges against the defendants are assault of central security force troops, criminal damage of a central security forces vehicle, theft of a central security forces vehicle battery, illegal assembly, causing a disturbance, use of illegal weapons, failure to carry personal identity documents, throwing stones at police cars and pedestrians, deliberate destruction of buildings for a terrorist objective, blocking traffic, possession and use of explosives and disturbing public security.
When some 30 lawyers went to the South Giza public prosecution office on Wednesday night they were surrounded by central security force troops and prevented from representing defendants arrested during the demonstrations.Head of the South Giza public prosecution office is reported to have told a delegation of five lawyers who were able to enter the building that he had received instructions not to allow them to attend interrogations.Lawyers presented a complaint about the incident to the attorney general on Thursday. (End of update)

The Coptic protests started already 11 November, after police sealed of the area where the church of St Mary was being built in Talbeyya district of Giza. Copts claim that about a million Coptsare living in this area without even one church. Protests  like this one are rare from Egypt's Christians. But church building and restoration has been a controversial issue since both require approval from a governor. A government report published last year stated that Egypt has 2000 churches, compared with more than 93,000 mosques. Copts constitute roughly ten percent of Egypt's total population of 79 million.
Earlier this month, on 16 November there was also an incident between Muslims and Copts in the village Al-Nawahid in Qena province, some 465 kilometers south of Cairo. After a christian young man was seen on a cemetery in an encounter with a muslim girl, angry muslims burned down about ten houses belonging to christians, before the police intervened. The young man and the girl had to be taken into protective custody.

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