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Egyptian police hold 34 after clashes at cathedral

09 Dec 2004 15:34:20 GMT

Source: Reuters

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 2004 Europa Technologies Ltd.CAIRO, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Egyptian police detained 34 people after clashing in Cairo with Christians protesting at what they said was the abduction of a priest's wife, security sources said on Thursday.

About 55 people were injured in the clashes on Wednesday night at the gates of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral, mostly by stones thrown from inside the compound at police and passers-by, they said.

Hundreds of Christians had been staging a round-the-clock sit-in at the cathedral for four days, demanding that the authorities return the wife, Wafa Constantine, to the priest in the Nile Delta province of Beheira, northwest of Cairo.

They said Muslims had abducted her and forced her to convert to Islam. Security officials said she had left her husband voluntarily.

The confrontation ended in the early hours of Thursday when church authorities told the protesters that the woman was under their protection and they should disperse.

Police allowed them to leave the compound in small groups but detained 34 Christians whom they suspected of having attacked the police, the security sources said.

Church officials were not immediately available to say what Constantine planned to do next.

It was the second incident of sectarian strife in less than a week in Egypt, where relations between the two religious communities are usually calm.

On Monday, police said they arrested 25 people and were keeping apart Muslims and Christians in a village south of Cairo after violence erupted.

Muslims had set ablaze two Christian-owned pharmacies and a book store, thrown stones at Christian homes and destroyed three police cars in Munqateen, 220 km (140 miles) south of Cairo.

Christians were the majority in Egypt until several centuries after the Arab conquest of the 7th century. They now make up between 5 and 10 percent of the population.