CAIRO -- Thousands of Egyptians on Tuesday marched to Maspero, the country's television headquarters, to commemorate the killings of 27 people, mostly Coptic Christians, a year ago by thugs and soldiers during a protest over a church destroyed by arson.
Muslims and Christians marched in solemn procession, carrying flowers and photos of the dead and chanting calls for justice for what has been dubbed the Maspero Massacre. They called for the death penalty for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, former head of the military-led government.
"I'm recalling everything that happened last year. I'm remembering how we approached the television building. I can still hear the gunfire and I remember the army tanks as they ruthlessly chased us," said Amir Roshdy, a 30-year-old Copt. "Till now we can still smell the blood of the martyrs, we still feel them here."
Protesters also chanted against Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. They accused him of striking deals with the former military rulers to secure power. Morsi was sworn into office in June and none of the nation's commanders have been charged.
"Morsi is a liar and he is out of tune with the people," said Hoda Khouzam, a Copt who came to Maspero to mourn those who died. "I don't want retribution or revenge. We want justice. If the blood of those who died gave us one thing, it's freedom of speech. This is why our fight now is in the constitution."
Many say the military had to have given orders for such an attack, in which unidentified armed men attacked the protest and soldiers indiscriminately fired live ammunition into the crowd. Army personnel carriers also drove into the demonstration.
Last month, "a military court sentenced three soldiers to 2-3 years for errors leading to deaths of 14 people. Their sentence can be appealed," Heba Morayef, Egypt's director for Human Rights Watch, posted Tuesday on her Twitter account.
Human Rights Watch issued a report last year that said as many as 18 of those who died were shot. Others suffered from crushed skulls and wracked bodies when army vehicles ran over them.
"There will never be accountability for the military’s crimes in Egypt until military officers can be tried by civilian courts," Morayef said.
Shortly after he was inaugurated, Morsi appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate attacks on peaceful protesters while the military was in power. Morayef said many human rights lawyers on the committee resigned after complaining that the presiding judge was not impartial and supported the military’s contention that a “third party” was involved.
Egypt's military council assumed power in February 2011 after a popular uprising toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi, who was inaugurated 16 months later, forced the country's military leaders into retirement, giving himself sweeping powers.
-- Reem Abdellatif
Photo: An Egyptian Coptic Christian holds a cross Tuesday during a march in Cairo to mark the
first anniversary of the Maspero clashes, in which 27 people were killed. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / European Pressphoto Agency