Chaos deepens as clashes in Egypt kill 13
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 5:06 PM
CAIRO -- Clashes between Muslims and Christians in Egypt left 13 dead and 140 wounded, deepening a sense of chaos as the police and ruling military struggled to maintain order barely a month after a popular uprising ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
In a sign of how much security has broken down, the pitched battles - the deadliest in years - went on for nearly four hours Tuesday night as both sides fought with guns, knives and clubs. Army troops fired in the air to disperse the crowds to no avail.
The new Cabinet sought to reassure Egyptians on Wednesday night, ordering police to immediately take back the streets.
The spasm of violence offered a glimpse of what has gone wrong in a one-time police state that now finds itself with less than half of its security forces back to work and a military that does not have enough troops on the ground.
The fighting began when a Muslim mob attacked thousands of Christians protesting the burning last week of a church in Soul, a village just south of Cairo.
The Muslims torched the church amid escalating tensions over a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. The relationship set off a violent feud between the couple's families. The woman's father and a cousin of the man were killed.
At one point in the battles, Christian protesters blocked a vital highway, burning tires and pelting passing cars with rocks.
Security officials said seven Christians and six Muslims were killed. The wounded were 72 Muslims and 68 Christians, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Troops later arrested 20 people, they said.
Even before the uprising that toppled Mubarak, tensions had been growing between Christians and Muslims.
The Coptic Christian minority makes up 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people and complains of widespread discrimination that they say relegates them to second-class citizen status.
A Jan. 1 suicide bombing outside a Coptic church in the port city of Alexandria killed 21 people, setting off days of protests. Barely a week later, an off-duty policeman shot and killed a 71-year-old Christian man, and wounded his wife and four others.