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Egypt's military defends actions in deaths of Coptic protesters

October 12, 2011 | 12:51 pm

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said Wednesday that soldiers were attacked by mobs and did not intentionally kill Coptic Christian protesters this week.

The generals’ comments at a news conference were the first public statements by the military on the violence Sunday, when clashes between thousands of Christian demonstrators, thugs and military police left 22 protesters and three police officers dead and more than 300 people injured.

Copts were protesting the burning of a church in southern Egypt by Muslim radicals.

“Members of the military police did not fire live ammunition,” Gen. Mahmoud Hegazi said in a clear attempt to defuse anger over the military’s crackdown on the protest and its refusal to quickly turn the country over to civilian rule.

Gen. Adel Emara said soldiers were armed only with riot gear and blank shots. He said the protest outside the state Radio and TV Building in downtown Cairo started peacefully before protesters' numbers swelled to 6,000, including men “carrying swords, gas cylinders and Molotov cocktails” who attacked soldiers. He also pointed to videos suggesting that priests had urged protesters to storm the building.

“I'm not saying who had what, whether it was a thug, an infiltrator or anyone joining the protest, but this is the truth,” he said.

Activists and human rights groups have criticized the military council for not protecting protesters who were seen on YouTube and Facebook videos being shot at and run over by armored personnel carriers. Forensic reports confirmed that some of the dead had been crushed and struck by bullets.

Emara said that some soldiers may have accidentally run over protesters while encountering an “unprecedented psychological state” and were trying to escape demonstrators' assaults. “I can't deny that some people may have been hit, but it was not systematic.”


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 --Amro Hassan. Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this report.

Photo: Gen. Adel Emara, left, Gen. Mahmoud Hegazi and members of the Egypt's ruling military council address a news conference about the clashes during a Coptic Christian protest Oct. 12, 2011, in Cairo. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency