Coptic Christians in Egypt often complain of discrimination from the authorities [AFP]

Egyptian authorities have arrested 156 protesters for involvement in Wednesday's bloody clashes between Christians and police over the government's refusal to grant them a permit to build a church.

Those arrested have been accused of planning to kill policemen and the public prosecutor has ordered their detention for two weeks.

A judicial source said on Thursday that the protesters were also accused of illegally demonstrating to prevent the authorities from doing their work.

They will remain in custody for questioning for two weeks and will then either be formally charged or have their detention renewed if they are not released.

The Orthodox Coptic Christian protesters who clashed with the police had been protesting against an official decision to stop them from converting a community centre under construction in the Cairo suburb of Giza.

The riots erupted outside a municipal building, after authorities halted construction of the church, claiming the local Christian community had violated a building permit.

One demonstrator was killed in the violence and dozens were wounded.


'Discrimination'

Protesters threw stone and petrol bombs as scores of police surrounded the area and fired tear gas to break up the demonstration. A security source said at least 93 protesters were detained after a scuffle with police.

Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 79 million population and often complain about discrimination in the Muslim-majority country. Church permits are often a source of tension, as Christians say they are not given the same freedom to build places of worship as Muslims.

Non-Muslims are required to obtain a presidential decree to construct new religious buildings and must satisfy numerous conditions before permission is granted.

The Copts said they did have permission and were continuing to work without machinery, which was being blocked from entering the site, the reports said.

Christian and Muslim religious leaders emphasise sectarian harmony, but communal tensions can erupt into criminality and violence, usually sparked by land disputes or cross-faith relationships.

Source: Agencies