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Inflamed by church bombing, Egypt's Copts protest

Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

In the wake of a bloody bombing during a New Year's Eve mass, Egypt’s Coptic Christians are increasing the pressure on authorities to protect them. Egypt's top Muslim and Christian cleric held a joint press conference to denounce the attack and call for Egyptian unity, regardless of faith.

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The explosion outside Saints Church in Alexandria during New Year's midnight mass killed 21 and wounded 96. Seven unidentified suspects are in custody, all owners of cars parked around the church in Alexandria.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing, but Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the perpetrators "foreign agents" and vowed to track them down. However, recent police discoveries have found that the explosives were locally-made.

Relations between Copts and Muslims have been deteriorating since the 1970s. The bombing is the deadliest attack on the Christian minority since six Copts were killed in a drive-by shooting following a Christmas Mass last year in southern Egypt.

“The attacks of the last ten years have gone unpunished and the state should be held accountable,” Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Secretary General at the Egypt opposition Al-Wafd party, said to RFI.

“It should be held directly responsible for the Islamification of Egyptian society,” Nour added.

Coptic Christians across Egypt spent the weekend in protest from Assiout to Cairo, as conflicts with security forces arose intermittently.

In Cairo, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered around the headquarters of the Coptic pope, Shenouda III, and scores of policemen were pelted with rocks.

Angry with what they consider government negligence, protestors vandalised cars and even threw rocks at passing cars.

As they moved along the Nile, the Christians chanted: "With our souls and blood we save the cross”. The group tried to storm a television station but was repelled by police.

On Saturday, a mob in Alexandria clashed with police and broke into a nearby mosque, throwing books, stones and bottles.

The unrest highlights the situation of Egypt’s Copts, who compose some 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million citizens, but often complain of discrimination.

On Sunday French Prime Minister Francois Fillon visited a church in the southern city of Aswan, where he had been visiting on a private trip.

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