Fierce clashes erupted in Cairo Sunday night between Christians protesting over a recent attack on a church and the military, leaving at least 24 people dead and more than 200 injured, security and hospital officials said.
In rioting outside the state television building along the Nile in Cairo, witnesses said some of the protesters may have snatched weapons from the soldiers and turned them on the military. The protesters also pelted the soldiers with rocks and bottles.
- Great darkness in Egypt
The clashes spread to nearby Tahrir Square and the area around it, causing massive traffic jams in the already chaotic city of 18 million.
In an attempt to quell the riots, Egypt's army rulers imposed a curfew on the square and downtown area. The curfew would last from 2 am to 7 am on Monday, state television reported.
The protesters said their demonstration began as a peaceful attempt to sit in at the television building. But then, they said they came under attack by thugs in plainclothes who rained stones down on them and fired pellets.
"The protest was peaceful. We wanted to hold a sit-in, as usual," said Essam Khalili, a protester wearing a white shirt with a cross drawn on it. "Thugs attacked us and a military vehicle jumped over a pavement and ran over at least 10 people. I saw them."
Wael Roufail, another protesters, corroborated the account.
"I saw the vehicle running over the protesters. Then they opened fired at us," he said.
Khalili said protesters set fire to army vehicles when they saw them hitting the protesters. Television footage of the riots showed some of the Coptic protesters attacking a soldier, while a priest tried to protect him. One soldier collapsed in tears as ambulances rushed to the scene to take away the injured.
'Military too lenient'
Christians blame Egypt's ruling military council for being too lenient on those behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February. Egypt's Coptic Christian minority makes up about 10% of the country's population of more than 80 million people. As Egypt undergoes a chaotic power transition and security vacuum in the wake of this year's uprising, Christians are particularly worried about the increasing show of power by the ultraconservative Islamists.
Sunday's rally began in the Shubra district of northern Cairo, then headed to the state television building along the Nile where men in plainclothes attacked the Christian protesters. Armed with sticks, they chased the Christian protesters from the site, banging metal street signs to scare them off. It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.
Gunshots rang out at the scene outside the state television building, where lines of riot police with shields tried to hold back hundreds of Christian protesters chanting "This is our country."
Security forces eventually fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
AP, Reuters and AFP contributed to the report
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