11/24/2010, 00.00
EGYPT

Islamists lay siege to Coptic church near pyramids

The Egyptian Union of Human Rights calls for local government chief to be dismissed for fuelling interreligious tensions. Police forces surround church under construction, seizing four concrete mixing vehicles. Thousands of Copts surround the building to protect it.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Copts and Egyptian security forces clashed on Sunday outside the Saints Mary and Michael Church in Talbiya, near the Pyramids, Giza. Police want to stop the church construction, which is in its final stage. This is the second time in ten days that security forces try to enter the religious compound, which is under 24-7 protection by priests and worshippers. The siege began at midnight, and lasted six hours. As of 9 pm, the church was full of worshippers praying, aware that security would try to move in.

Security forces surrounded the church compound and seized four concrete mixing vehicles on their way to the site. The concrete was spoiled.

At the same time, some 2,000 Copts joined those already in the church. Demonstrations and sit-ins took place in front of police.

Christian religious authorities said that the church would continue to be protected until the matter is not settled.

Naguib Ghobrial, president of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, issued a statement calling for the dismissal of the head of the local government in Omraniya who ordered the security forces in.

“The Church has all the permits,” he said. “By this behaviour, the chief of the local authority is encouraging Islamists to fight with Christians because of the Church. This encourages sedition.”

Protestors are adamant that they have all necessary construction permits. They slam the decision of the head of the local government in Omraniya to stop work on the church, which is nearly complete except for the domes.

Samira Ibrahim Shehata, a volunteer worker at the church, who has been on guard at the Church premises since 11 November, said, "I want to know why a hundred mosques can be built, and not one church”.

About a million Copts live in the Talbiya area, but they have no church. Worshippers who want to attend religious services must travel back and forth for several kilometres.

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