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Egyptian minister offers to resign after Christian deaths

Egypt’s finance minister tendered his resignation Tuesday to protest the government’s role in the most violent unrest since the winter uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, according to an aide. But his attempt to quit was quickly rejected by the country’s transitional military leadership.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces refused late in the day to accept Hazem Beblawi’s resignation, the ministry’s spokesman, Mohammed al-Saqa, said. Beblawi had offered to step down after what human rights activists have described as a“massacre” of 25 people, mostly Coptic Christians, late Sunday during a crackdown by the military against rock-throwing protesters.

Beblawi, who is also deputy prime minister, could not be reached by phone Tuesday, but an official in his Egyptian Social Democratic Party, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his move was intended as a protest.

“He expressed his discontent with the way the government dealt with the Maspero events,” the official said, using the local name for the radio and TV building in downtown Cairo where the worst of the violence took place. “He doesn’t want to work for a government that kills Egyptians.”

On Sunday, the military apparently tried to break up a demonstration by a group of mostly Coptic Christians protesting the burning of a church in southern Egypt. When the unarmed demonstrators did not disperse and responded by throwing rocks, soldiers plowed their vehicles into the crowd, witnesses said, adding that after the demonstrators torched several vehicles, soldiers opened fire.

Human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the incident as the military deals with the biggest blow to its reputation since assuming power Feb. 11. The ruling military council, long a popular institution in Egypt, has been widely criticized as indecisive and inexperienced during its oversight of Egypt’s transition, but it has come under particular fire since Sunday’s deadly events.

Beblawi’s party posted a statement on its Facebook page calling for the sacking of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s government and a criminal investigation of the military police chief and the interior minister in connection with the violence Sunday.

The incident has angered and terrified the Coptic Christian community, which makes up about 10 percent of the population. Copts have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens in Egypt and are still fighting for the right to build churches without having to secure special permits.

The incident united several segments of Egyptian society against the military leadership in a call for an immediate transition to civilian rule. But it has also highlighted rifts in the country at a time when fundamentalist Muslims are increasingly visible and influential — a trend that has left many Copts feeling vulnerable. Christian leaders say hard-line Islamists have attacked their churches.

When the violence broke out Sunday, state media called on “honest Egyptians” to protect the military from Coptic Christian assailants, prompting mobs to take to the streets chanting pro-Islamic slogans and attacking protesters. Many observers accuse the military of using the state-run outlet to incite sectarian violence.

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.



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