Christians in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, are holding a protest vigil near Tahrir Square following an attack on two churches in which 12 people died.

More than 180 were wounded in clashes on Saturday after conservative Muslims attacked a church in the Imbaba area.

Protesters have gathered outside the country’s state television, accusing the army of failing to protect them.

Egypt’s army says more than 190 people detained after the violence will face military trials.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces called the move a “deterrent” against further violence.

Egypt’s justice minister Abdel Aziz al-Gindi has warned that those who threaten the country’s security will face “an iron fist”.

Fire bombs

He spoke after an emergency cabinet meeting convened by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who postponed a visit to the Gulf to hold the talks.

Mr Gindi said the government would “immediately and firmly implement the laws that criminalise attacks against places of worship and freedom of belief”, which would allow for the death penalty to be applied.

Saturday’s violence started after several hundred conservative Salafist Muslims gathered outside the Coptic Saint Mena Church in Cairo’s Imbaba district.

They were reportedly protesting over the allegation that a Christian woman, named as Abeer, was being held there against her will because she had married a Muslim man and converted to Islam.

The calls for this protest followed the appearance on a Christian TV channel of Camilia Shehata, a woman who Islamists had claimed was also being held against her will after converting to Islam. She denied this in the TV interview.

Witnesses said the confrontation began with shouting between protesters, church guards and people living near the church.

Rival groups threw firebombs and stones, and gunfire was heard.

The church and one other, as well as some nearby homes, were set alight, and it took hours for the emergency services and the military to bring the situation under control.

Christian leaders have declared three days of mourning for those who died in Saturday’s violence.

On Sunday, hundreds gathered outside the main state television building, calling for the removal of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads Egypt’s ruling military council.

When they were met by a group of Muslims, fights again broke out and the two groups pelted each other with stones.

The Christian mourners have now gathered outside state television for a second day. The BBC’s Jonathan Head, in Cairo, says the protesters are angry with the army for failing to protect them.

Military authorities are promising tougher measures against anyone who attacks a place of worship, but such promise have been made before, to little effect, says our correspondent.

Egypt is experiencing a security vacuum since the departure of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, with the discredited police staying out of communal conflicts.

Hard-line Salafi Muslim groups were rarely seen in the days of Mubarak, but now they are now able to mount aggressive demonstrations against perceived threats to Islam, straining community relations, our correspondent says.

Sectarian clashes

On its Facebook page, the Egyptian army announced: “The Supreme Military Council decided to send all those who were arrested in yesterday’s events, that is 190 people, to the Supreme Military Court.”

It added that it should act as a “deterrent to all those who think of toying with the potential of this nation”.

The statement also said that a committee would be set up to assess the damage caused by the clashes and “restore all property and places of worship to how they were”.

Saturday’s clashes were not the first outbreak of communal violence since President Mubarak left office in February following weeks of popular protests.

During the protests in Cairo, many Christians and Muslims had protested alongside each other and protected each other during prayer times.

But in March, 13 people died in sectarian clashes in another neighbourhood. Last month, demonstrators in the southern city of Qena cut all transport links with Cairo for a week in protest over the appointment of a Christian governor.

Source: BBC News


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