10/10/2012, 00.00
EGYPT
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Tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets a year after the massacre of Copts at Maspero

Muslims and people from the Islamic university of al-Azhar take part in the rally. Slogans are shouted against President Morsi and the military, accused of doing nothing to bring to justice those responsible for the bloodbath.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Egyptians from all walks of life took part last night in a rally that marked the first anniversary of the massacre of Copts in front of the Maspero building. Tens of thousands of Christians, Muslims, people from al-Azhar University, Islamists and even supporters of Cairo's football team marched from Dawaran Shurba Square, along the banks of the Nile, to the Egyptian State TV building, shouting slogans against the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The protest took the same route followed by the thousands of Coptic protesters who on the night of 9-10 October had taken to the streets to complain about the destruction of two Coptic churches in Upper Egypt by Muslims. The violent military crackdown that followed left 26 people dead, 24 Copts and two police agents.

Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, told AsiaNews that "the great success of the demonstration and the participation of large numbers of Muslims are hopeful signs for Copts fighting for justice over the past year. No politician wants to face the issue, one of the darkest pages of Egypt's recent history."

Demonstrators gathered first for vesper, in a symbolic funeral for the victims. Some 20 young women dressed in ancient costumes walked in front of the crowd carrying large pictures of the young victims, followed by the replica of an ancient ship with the names of the dead activists on the sails.

"The moment I saw my brother laying on the ground covered with blood, after he was run over by an armoured military vehicle, fails to leave my memory, even one year later," said Wael Bishay, 31, a member of one of the 24 families demanding justice. So far, the authorities have said nothing despite appeals for action.

The lack of evidence has hampered the trial of those accused. Three soldiers charged with second-degree murder were tried by a court-martial, not a civilian court, and were given a three-year sentence.

The court ruled that they were guilty of "negligence and absence of caution, while they were driving armed forces armoured personnel carriers in an arbitrary fashion," but nowhere does it mention intent.

Similarly, none of the military who took power in 2011 has been held accountable for the massacre.

However, a year since the event, some steps seem to have been taken in that direction. This month, it was announced that Tantawi, former chief of staff Sami Anan, former military police head Hamdy Badeen and current military police head Ibrahim El-Domiaty will be investigated for their role in the deaths of protesters.

Over the past few months, the Coptic community and the families of the 24 victims filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who transferred the matter to the Justice Ministry.

Yesterday, President Morsi came under strong criticism when he announced an amnesty for the young people arrested during the Jasmine Revolution but failed to mention the massacre of Copts by the military.

Sources told AsiaNews that Islamists and the military have reached an informal agreement to cover up the affair to protect those responsible, who also include some Salafists.

"I saw army soldiers throwing bodies of protesters in the Nile," Wael Bishay said. "I remember seeing three Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) intentionally running over protesters." For him, if "each APC had three to four army personnel inside," it is impossible that only three people are on trial.

For Ramy Kamel from the Maspero Youth Union, an organisation set up after the massacre, the attack was planned and the soldiers involved belonged to Islamist groups.

"For the first time in my life, I heard soldiers saying Allah Akbar (God is great) after killing Coptic protesters," he explained. Some armed civilians also fired live ammunition.

Despite hundreds of eyewitnesses, taped videos and complaints by international organisations, the Defence Ministry continues to deny the use of live bullets, claiming instead that the vehicles "unintentionally" knocked down protesters.

A few days after the massacre, Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) member General Mohamed El-Assar defended the military in a televised press conference, insisting that hooligans egged on by the crowd attacked soldiers and set fire to an armoured vehicle.

In the aftermath, the military prosecution hauled 31 civilians in front of military courts, charging them with violence against the armed forces. Recently, all but two were released. Cairo Criminal Court adjourned the case against Michael Abdel-Naguib and Mosaad Shaker to 4 November.

For Coptic activists, their arrest and trial are excuses used to justify the official version of events, which puts the blame on demonstrators, not the military.

State media have relayed the same story. As demonstrators were dying outside the media headquarters, inside the walls, state television called on the nation to "come and protect the armed forces" from their supposed assailants.

Now, the Youth Maspero Union is suing state-run Channel One TV and its chiefs for their role in the matter.

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