Egypt’s army accuses Christians of incitement
Members of ruling military council say Christian religious leaders incited Sunday’s deadly violence which left 26 dead.
Egypt’s ruling military council has accused public figures and what it described as hardline Christian preachers for inciting deadly protests outside state television on Sunday.
The gathering in the country’s capital, Cairo, ended violently with at least 26 people killed and hundreds injured in Egypt’s worst violence since the fall of the former president Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.
General Adel Emara, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said on Wednesday that a minority of the protesters were peaceful, but that a more violent, armed crowd joined the protest outside the TV building and began attacking a unit of about 300 soldiers, armed only with anti-riot gear.
Emara denied that the troops opened fire with live ammunition on the protesters or intentionally ran over them with armoured vehicles.
“I want to bring your attention that the protesters outside Maspero [state TV building] had many strange things with them: swords, gas cylinders, molotov cocktails,” he said.
A majority of those killed in Sunday’s violence were Christians. Forensic reports indicated that many were crushed by vehicles while some died from gunfire.
State media said at least three soldiers were also killed.
Emara accused the protesters of sparking the violence by setting army vehicles on fire and attacking forces inside with stones.
He denied that soldiers drove their vehicles into the crowd intentionally, saying the drivers were in a state of panic and were trying to escape.
‘Never, opened fire’
“The armed forces would never, and has never, opened fire on the people,” Mahmoud Hegazy, another member of the council also addressing the news conference, said.
The conference briefing was clearly aimed at defending Egypt’s military rulers from heavy criticism they have come under for the violence at the protests.
Emara gave a detailed account of the military’s version of the events, using video footage of the events culled from state TV and independent stations.
One of the images showed a protester hurling a heavy stone at soldiers inside an armoured vehicle.
Witnesses and Christian protesters have denied the demonstrators started the fighting.
Emara did not show other videos aired on TV stations, or posted on YouTube, one of which seemed to show soldiers storming protesters who were peacefully holding speeches outside the building and another that appeared to show a soldier firing with an unidentifiable weapon at protesters at close range from the back of a speeding amroured vehicle weaving through the crowds.
On Wednesday, the military buried soldiers killed in the violence, the state news agency MENA reported.
It did not give the number of soldiers buried, but the Arabic phrasing suggested it was more than two.
Violence against Christians, the majority of whom belong to the orthodox Coptic Church, has mounted since the fall of Mubarak in February.