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EGYPT: Curfew imposed on two towns as religious violence escalates

July 5, 2009 | 12:02 pm

_41564186_copsix Clashes between Muslims and Christian Copts recently spurred  Egyptian security forces to impose curfews on two towns in the governorates of Bani Swaif and Dakahlia.

In Kafr El Barbari in Dakahlia, mayhem broke out Tuesday after  18-year-old Mohamed Ramadan Ezzat, a Muslim, was apparently  stabbed to death by John Emile Gerges, a Christian grocer, in a dispute over the price of a carbonated drink.

After Ezzat's burial later that same day, 25 people were injured as hundreds of angry Muslims attacked Gerges' and other Coptic residents' houses, throwing stones and trying to set the homes on fire.  The violence spurred many to flee the town, which is inhabited by about 1,000 Copts and 3,000 Muslims.

Most Copts are staying at home in fear of other possible attacks. After the incident, dozens of security vehicles, firefighters and ambulance personnel formed a security barrier around the town as police forces tried to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the village. Security forces attempted to intervene to bring peace between the town's Muslim and Coptic leaders, and financially compensating Ezzat's family was being suggested as a possible resolution to end the conflict.

Meanwhile, six people were injured and 15 others were detained by police in the wake of similar confrontations between Muslims and Copts in the Bani Swaif village of Ezbet Gerges on Friday.

Clashes started when a priest decided to turn a social services building for Copts into a small church. Muslims attacked the priest's house and attempted to burn it down. Seven security vehicles were sent to maintain order by surrounding the village and the priest's house.

Priest Samaan Shehata blamed the situation on security forces, saying that none of this would have happened had state security responded to the official request to build a new church he sent months ago. Unlike mosques, building new churches in Egypt requires the authorization of the country's state security.

The two incidents come less than three weeks after 18 people were injured during a fight among neighbors in a village south of Cairo after a vicar held a Coptic Mass in his house.

Christians make up to 10% of the Egypt's population.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Tensions rise between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. Credit: Associated Press

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