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Inter-religious group clashes in Egypt
Nagaa Hamadi, Jan 9 (DPA):
Published on 9 Jan. 2010 10:27 PM IST
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Renewed fighting was reported in the Egyptian city of Nagaa Hamadi Friday evening, the same day police arrested three suspects in connection with a drive-by shooting outside a church earlier this week which left nine dead, a security source said. The renewed violence left significant damage in the city centre, reported witnesses, coming on the heels of violent clashes throughout the day Thursday between the police and massive crowds of Christian residents that left mosques and stores damaged. Periodic rioting had already been reported earlier Friday by angry Muslim residents who attacked predominantly Christian neighbourhoods of the town, smashing Christian-owned shops. Friday evening's fighting reportedly began after a group of about 200 Christians gathered in front of their church to shout slogans denouncing local security forces, saying those forces did not adequately protect Christians and treated them as second class citizens. Earlier in the day, police had arrested the suspects from Wednesday night's shooting after negotiations for the suspects to give themselves up peacefully, a source said. On Wednesday night gunmen opened fire on Christians leaving a Coptic Christmas Eve mass in the town of Nagaa Hamadi, some 650 kilometres south of Cairo. Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan 7. The attack left eight Christians and one Muslim policeman guarding the church dead. Earlier on Friday, a security source said police found the car believed to have been used in the attack. The source added that more security forces have been deployed in the city to control the situation and assist in pursuing the suspects. One police officer, speaking to DPA on condition of anonymity, said police believed the shooters had been hired. Sectarian relations in the town have been tense since Muslim residents rioted in response to the rape of a 12-year-old girl, allegedly by a Christian man. According to government figures, Christians account for roughly 10 percent of Egypt's population, though many Egyptian Christians believe the real figure is higher. Clashes between Egypt's Christian and Muslim populations are rare, but tensions do periodically erupt.

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