Deputy PM resigns as Egyptian Copts mourn

Deputy PM resigns as Egyptian Copts mourn

Deputy PM resigns as Egyptian Copts mourn

Egyptian Copts carry the coffins of victims of clashes, during a funeral yesterday, a day after 24 people, mostly Christians, died in clashes with Egyptian security forces. AFP photo

Egyptian deputy prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi, who is also the country’s finance minister, resigned from his post on Tuesday, the official MENA news agency reported. It was not immediately clear why Beblawi-- one of two deputy prime ministers-- resigned, but the announcement came after deadly clashes in Cairo that sparked furious condemnation of the leadership’s handling of the transition from Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

Some 20,000 mourners chanted slogans denouncing the ruling military during a funeral procession overnight for 17 Christians killed in a Cairo protest. They accused the army of bearing primary responsibility for the worst violence since Egypt’s uprising eight months ago.

Mourners packed the Coptic cathedral in Cairo for the funerals that began shortly before midnight on Oct. 10 and lasted for several hours. They filled hallways and corridors as prayers were led by top church officials. At times, the prayers were interrupted by chants of “Down with military rule” and “The people want to topple the Marshal,” a reference to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who heads the ruling military council that took power after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February.

The violence Sunday night, which left 26 dead and about 500 injured, began when thousands of Coptic Christians marched to the state television building to stage a sit-in over a recent attack on a church. As they marched, state television called on civilians to “protect” the army, casting the Christians as a mob seeking to undermine national unity. State television accused the Coptic demonstrators of firing shots that killed three army troops, prompting fights between Christians and Muslims later that night. But furious Copts said the security forces attacked the demonstrators, driving vehicles into the crowd and crushing several protesters.

In the two days since the violence, Christians have grown furious with the ruling military, hurling a string of accusations in their direction. The Coptic church said authorities allow attacks on Christians repeatedly with impunity. Muslim perpetrators of sectarian violence are rarely punished in Egypt, with the authorities opting instead for “reconciliation” talks in which Christians are pressured to drop their accusations.

The military, on the other hand, issued a stern warning that it intended to crack down hard on future protests. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would take the “necessary precautions to stabilize security” and use the full weight of the law to prosecute individuals involved in violence, whether by participation or incitement.

The Coptic church announced three days of fasting and prayers as Christians’ sense of injustice hit a new high. One priest said that the fast was a means of showing loss of confidence in the authorities. He said such a measure had not been invoked by the church since former President Anwar Sadat’s program of Islamizing laws during the 1970s.

Some Muslims said they would join the Christians in their fast in solidarity. A campaign named “Fast4Egypt” spread on social networking sites. The outcry over the deaths may push Egypt’s military rulers to address some Coptic grievances. The Cabinet has already announced it would issue a new law regulating houses of worship in two weeks, and that the law would criminalize religious discrimination. Meanwhile, the UN human rights office yesterday urged Egyptian authorities to ensure that any probes into clashes which killed 25 people, mostly Coptic Christians, be conducted in an impartial and independent manner.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff