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Egypt's finance minister resigns to protest crackdown

October 11, 2011 |  9:58 am

Finance Minister Hazem Beblawi represents Egypt at a meeting of Persian Gulf and Arab finance ministers in Abu Dhabi in September

REPORTING FROM CAIRO — Egyptian Finance Minister Hazem Beblawi has resigned in protest over the military-led government’s crackdown on Coptic Christian protesters this week that deepened sectarian tensions and left 25 people dead and more than 300 injured.

"Despite the fact that there might not be direct responsibility on the government's part, the responsibility lies, ultimately, on its shoulders," the official state news agency MENA quoted Beblawi as saying. "The current circumstances are very difficult and require a new and different way of thinking and working."

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, his Cabinet and the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces have been heavily criticized by Copts and human rights organizations for the killing of protesters and for not protecting them from thugs who pelted Christians with rocks during a demonstration outside the Radio and Television Building in downtown Cairo on Sunday.

The Copts were protesting the burning of a church in southern Egypt when gunshots rang out and armored personnel carriers sped into the crowd, running over dozens of Christians. Egyptian state-controlled media reported that Copts carried “weapons and used them against military police soldiers." Three soldiers were reported killed.

Beblawi’s resignation came after thousands of Copts marched through the streets late Monday and early Tuesday in a funeral procession for 17 protesters. Beblawi, who was also Sharaf's deputy, was appointed finance minister in a Cabinet shake-up that followed protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square in July.

Sharaf was quoted by MENA as saying that he received Beblawi's resignation but hadn’t yet accepted it, adding that the matter was "under discussion."

The resignation comes one day after autopsy reports on 21 Coptic protesters revealed that the deaths were caused by injuries from live bullets, bird shot, flying stones and being run over by vehicles.   
 
In an attempt to calm Copts' escalating anger, the head of the military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, ordered the prime minister’s Cabinet to investigate Sunday's violence. He also ordered that a new law to protect the building of churches and other houses of worship be drafted in the next two weeks.
 
New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for an impartial and thorough investigation that "should examine the role of the army and police officers” in the violence.
 
"Personal extremism against Copts from some soldiers was very obvious, and whether it was by the army's knowledge or not, there was a plan to have infiltrators who would attack and kill Coptic protesters," claimed Fakhri Girgis Fakhri, who was among the mourners.
 
Officials have detained at least 21 suspects in the clashes.

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— Amro Hassan; Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo contributed to this report

Photo: Finance Minister Hazem Beblawi represents Egypt at a meeting of Persian Gulf and Arab finance ministers in Abu Dhabi in September. Credit: Jumana El Heloueh / Reuters

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