- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Police fired live ammunition into the air and lobbed tear gas at rioting crowds of Christians and Muslims yesterday in a third day of sectarian violence in Egypt’s second-largest city.

One Muslim reportedly died of wounds suffered a day earlier, and dozens more were wounded and arrested.

Police fought back Coptic Christians, who were encircled by a security cordon around the Saints Church in downtown Alexandria after hurling stones and bottles from inside the police line. Fellow demonstrators tossed Molotov cocktails from the balconies of nearby buildings.

Police could be seen repeatedly beating a boy of about 12, who was among the crowd of Coptic young people who fled into the church, slamming the doors behind them, or dashed down narrow streets surrounding the church. Most of the protesters were ages 12 to 25.

Later, a huge mob of what appeared to be Muslim protesters charged the police cordon from the other side.

Mustafa Mohammed Mustafa, a Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian, said a 24-year-old Muslim died early yesterday of wounds from a beating by Christians during rioting Saturday.

The violence apparently was prompted by knife attacks that wounded as many as 16 people at three churches in Alexandria on Friday. Although it was Good Friday for many of the world’s Christians, the Copts and other Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter next week.

The Christian protesters behind the police cordon yesterday repeatedly surged against it from the front of the church, and by late afternoon they were hurling rocks and bottles at security troops as others tossed firebombs from surrounding apartment balconies.

Sirens blared as ambulances raced toward the scene. Armored police vehicles surrounded the church as tear gas fumes sent protesters fleeing down narrow streets in the neighborhood.

Earlier yesterday, police officials said, 43 persons had been wounded in clashes near the church and 50 others had been arrested as religious leaders and politicians sought to ease sectarian tensions.

About 2,000 riot police had cordoned off the front of the Saints Church, but they were unable to prevent the late-afternoon melee by about 200 young men milling around church grounds after services ended. They carried wooden crosses, clubs and machetes.

At least 22 persons were wounded in clashes in the Mediterranean city Saturday, and 15 persons were arrested in the fighting that police said was instigated by “fanatics.”

Security forces also used tear gas to put down the Saturday violence, which erupted among several hundred Coptic Christians and Muslims at the end of the funeral procession for Nushi Atta Girgis, 78, who was slain Friday outside the Saints Church in the Sidi Bishr district.

Coptic Christians form about 10 percent of Egypt’s 73 million population and generally live in peace with the Muslim majority.

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