Sun, Oct 23, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Muslims, police clash in Egypt over Christian play

`ANTI-ISLAMIC' Several thousand Muslims gathered outside Saint Gergis church in Alexandria to protest the video release of a church play that they perceived as offensive

AFP AND AP , CAIRO AND ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT

More than 2,000 Muslims protest outside a Coptic Christian church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, Egypt, on Friday, demanding an apology for a drama presented in the church deemed by them as offensive to Islam. A police official said the angry protesters shouted slogans and lobbed stones at St. Gergis church, breaking several of its windows and causing damage to the facade.

PHOTO: AP

At least three people have been killed and around 60 injured in violent clashes between Muslims and police in Alexandria amid mounting tensions in the Egyptian city over a Christian play considered anti-Islamic, the interior ministry said early yesterday.

One of the victims, Mohammad Zakariya, died late on Friday of his injuries in hospital, the ministry said. Two others died shortly after midnight after the police opened fire on the Muslims who were demonstrating against the DVD of the play that was released by the Saint Girgis Church.

After police broke up an earlier demonstration on Friday that had gathered about 5,000 people, demonstrators grouped again outside the building again in the evening after breaking their Ramadan fast.

The violence intensified and spread after the first wounded protestor died, witnesses said.

Twenty policemen and sixty protestors were wounded, an interior ministry spokesman said.

One police car and six other vehicles were burned in the clashes.

Fifty-three protestors had been arrested, the ministry said.

The Muslim protestors earlier attacked the church and injured a passer-by, as they vented anger over the DVD release of a play produced by Saint Girgis two years ago they consider to be anti-Muslim.

The protests came three days after a man lightly wounded a nun with a knife at the entrance to the same church, and a man who came to her aid was stabbed in the back.

The play, performed by amateur actors, tells the story of a young Christian who converts to Islam and is exhorted by a sheikh to kill priests and destroy churches, according to the independent Al-Dustur paper.

Performances of the play had to be abandoned after it sparked a public outcry. Church authorities have distanced themselves from the new recordings of the play. Black-uniformed riot police battled to prevent thousands of angry Muslims from storming a church on Friday, beating protesters with sticks and firing tear gas in a riot that ended with one person dead and 53 others arrested.

Police said about 90 people, including 20 police officers, were wounded outside St. George Church. The rioters hurled stones that injured police officers, smashed church windows and damaged the white facade of the three-story church, a police official said. They also set a police car on fire and wrecked eight other cars, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

An AP photographer saw police fire rubber bullets into the crowd, causing injuries. But the police denied this, saying their men fired rubber bullets only into the air to disperse the crowd.

A police official said protester, Mohammed Zakaraya Hassan, 48, died in hospital after being admitted with severe tear gas inhalation and the effects of being trampled on. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Hassan died of circulatory collapse.

The Interior Ministry described the protesters as "fanatic elements" who "escalated a negative reaction to a play." The ministry said about 5,000 Muslims had marched to the church after Friday noon prayers at the local mosques.

"The police tried to prevent [the demonstrators] from approaching the church and attacking it, but the protesters did not heed the warnings and started to hurl stones at the church, security forces and pedestrians," the ministry said.

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