Five dead, 54 wounded in Egyptian sectarian clashes

Five people were killed and more than 54 were wounded in a sectarian clash in Egypt on Saturday over a Christian woman who had allegedly converted to Islam, health officials said.

The strife represents another challenge to Egypt’s military rulers who are trying to restore law and order after President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in a popular uprising in February.

Details of how the confrontation began were sketchy. But witnesses said about 500 conservative Islamists known as salafists gathered at the Saint Mina Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba demanding to take custody of a woman they said had converted to Islam.

A shouting match ensued between church guards and neighbours and the Islamists. The verbal clash soon developed into a full fledged confrontation where the two sides exchanged gun fire, firebombs and stones.

“I just left one young man dead inside the church,” one Christian witness told journalists at the scene.

Easier to build a mosque than a church
Authorities deployed large numbers of soldiers and police, backed by armoured vehicles, to the area.
The army fired shots in the air and used tear gas to separate both sides, witnesses said.

The governor of Giza province told journalists at least one person died and 23 were wounded in the clashes.

But the director of the health department in Giza province, Abdel-Halim al-Behairi put the death toll at five and 54 wounded. He told Egypt’s state news agency Mena that three of the wounded were in serious condition.

Interfaith relationships often cause tension in Egypt, where Christians make up about 10% of its 80-million people.

Christians complain about unfair treatment, including rules they say make it easier to build a mosque than a church.

Last year Egypt saw more than its usual share of sectarian strife, and a rights groups has said such clashes have been on the rise. Muslims and Christians had been brought together during the protests that ousted Mubarak. - Reuters

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