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October 10, 2011

Egyptian Christians Mourn Protesters Killed in Cairo Clashes

Thousands of Egyptian Coptic Christians have attended a mass funeral for Christian protesters killed in street battles with security forces in Cairo, while the country's ruling military council ordered the government to investigate the violence.

Mourners packed Cairo's Abbasiya cathedral for Monday's service, led by Orthodox Coptic Pope Shenouda, who called on Christians to begin three days of fasting in the hope that peace will return.

The Coptic Church issued a statement saying the minority community has suffered repeated problems and the perpetrators have gone unpunished.

At least 25 people were killed in Sunday's battles - mostly Coptic Christians - in the country's worst violence since a February uprising that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak. The clashes began after more than 1,000 Christians marched to Egypt's state television building in Cairo to protest a recent attack by Islamist radicals on a church in the country's south.

The protest turned violent, with demonstrators fighting police and soldiers guarding the building. Witnesses say armored vehicles rammed into protesters, killing several of them. Some people also threw rocks and gasoline bombs at security personnel. Christian protesters accused agitators of joining in to provoke violence.

Many of the dead had gunshot wounds. At least three soldiers were among those killed. Hundreds of other people were wounded.

After a crisis meeting Monday, the generals, who took power from Mr. Mubarak, reiterated a pledge to hand power eventually to an elected civilian authority.

More violence erupted Monday outside a Cairo hospital where many of the wounded were taken for treatment, with hundreds of protesters throwing stones at security forces. Inside, Coptic women mourned dead family members.

White House officials said U.S. President Barack Obama is deeply concerned about the loss of life and called for restraint on all sides. European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg Monday, also expressed alarm.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying he is deeply saddened by the violence.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's roughly 80 million people. Many Christians complain that Egypt's new leadership has been too lenient on Islamists they blame for a series of anti-Christian attacks since the Mubarak ouster.

In a nationally televised address late Sunday, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the violence has taken the country backward, instead of advancing towards a modern state based on democratic principles.

Egyptian authorities said they have arrested dozens of people for involvement in the unrest.