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Military trial for 190 after Egypt clashes

CAIRO, May 8 – Egypt\’s military rulers said on Sunday that 190 people detained overnight in connection with clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo that left 10 people dead will face a military trial.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since a popular uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February, ordered "the transfer of all those arrested in connection with (Saturday\’s) events, and they number 190, to the Supreme Military Court."

The army said the move was a "deterrent" to all those who sought to sow strife in the country.

The statement came as Egypt\’s cabinet held crisis talks after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf delayed a visit to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The clashes late Saturday in the Cairo working class neighbourhood of Imbaba killed 10 people, injured 186 and set a church ablaze.

Since Mubarak\’s overthrow, the country has been gripped by insecurity and sectarian unrest, amid — by the government\’s admission — a "counter-revolution" by remnants of the old regime aimed at sowing chaos.

In its statement posted on Facebook, the army blamed "forces of evil and darkness" for trying to "tear the national fabric."

In Imbaba — an overcrowded maze of residential buildings and shops– Muslim and Christian residents pleaded with Interior Minister Mansur Essawy to boost security on the streets, the official MENA news agency said.

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The government has come under criticism for the shortage of police forces and lack of security but during his walkabout Essawy vowed to "improve security in the coming phase and bring back stability," MENA said.

Victims\’ families will be paid 5,000 Egyptian pounds (around $840) in compensation, and the injured will receive 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($336), said Ali Abdelrahman, the governor of Giza where Imbaba lies.

Imbaba has been sealed off and security has been stepped up around key churches in the country, senior security official Mohsen Murad told state TV.

The two camps had clashed on Saturday after Muslims attacked the Coptic Saint Mena church to free a Christian woman they alleged was being held against her will because she wanted to convert to Islam.

Egypt\’s mufti — the government\’s chief interpreter of Islamic law — Ali Gomaa condemned the clashes and said they "were toying with Egypt\’s national security."

Military police parked outside the church in Imbaba on Saturday fired their guns into the air as Christians in front of the church and Muslim protesters down the street hurled stones at each other. The Muslim protesters threw firebombs, one of them setting an apartment near the church on fire.

Coptic protesters scuffled with soldiers, blaming them for not doing enough to protect them.

The soldiers advanced at Muslim protesters who edged closer to the church, firing over their heads to repel them. Special forces were later deployed outside the church.

Elsewhere in Imbaba, Muslim protesters threw firebombs at another church, setting it on fire, police officials said. They said the fire was put out.

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At one of the cordons outside the St Mena church, Muslim protesters said they were first fired upon by the Copts, after they tried to find a Christian woman they say converted to Islam and was being held inside.

Copts account for up to 10 percent of the country\’s 80 million people and they complain of discrimination, and have been the targets of fairly regular sectarian attacks.

Claims that Christian women who converted to Islam were kidnapped and held in churches or monasteries have soured relations between the two communities for months.

Egypt\’s military rulers had warned on May 1 of strong measures against anyone inciting sectarian strife, in a bid to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it was "exerting all efforts to end sectarian disagreements on the Egyptian street to protect this nation."

The statement came after a series of Muslim-Christian clashes and amid the growing public presence of Salafis — a puritanical Islamist sect — since the fall of Mubarak after a wave of mass protests.


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