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New Clashes Erupt in Egypt, Prime Minister Calls for Calm

An Egyptian woman mourns over the coffins of some of the 24 Coptic Christians killed during overnight clashes. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images.

4 p.m. ET | The loss of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down in February following large-scale protests, was keenly felt by the Coptic Church, according to David Kirkpatrick, New York Times correspondent in Cairo.

“The Copts have for sure lost a protector with Mubarak gone … Mubarak and [Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria] had a special bond, distinctive to his kind of one man rule,” he told the NewsHour. “The pope would more or less campaign for Mubarak … they had a kind of partnership in power.

“It’s a not-so-pretty phenomenon that you see throughout the Middle East … secular dictatorships where the Christian minorities cozy up to the dictator for protection against their Muslim neighbors.” He said Syria, Iraq and “to some extent Lebanon” were other examples.

We’ll have more from Kirkpatrick on Monday’s NewsHour.

11:15 p.m. ET | Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of the Coptic Church in Egypt, criticized the government for “problems that occur repeatedly and go unpunished.” The death toll from Sunday’s violence rose to 26 people, and Shenouda called for a three-day period of fasting, mourning and prayer. Most of those 26 killed were believed to be Copts, though their identities have not yet been confirmed.

The military government has promised a full investigation into the incident.

“The necessary measures are being taken now to immediately investigate the event and bring the perpetrators to justice, whoever they were,” Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said on Facebook.

President Obama is “deeply concerned” about the violence in Egypt, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday morning. “As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities — including Copts — must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.”

Original post | One day after at least 24 people died in violence that erupted after Christians gathered to protest an attack on a church in Cairo, hundreds of protesters clashed with police Monday by a hospital as Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appealed for calm in a televised address.

On Sunday a group of Christian protesters massed near a state television building in downtown Cairo in response to an attack on a church in Aswan province. According to the Associated Press, “The protesters said they were attacked by “thugs” with sticks and the violence then spiraled out of control after a speeding military vehicle jumped up onto a sidewalk and rammed into some of the Christians.” The protests spread quickly from the television building to Tahrir Square, the focal point of the mass protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February.

Cars burning in Cairo during Sunday’s clashes. Photo by Mohamed Hossam/AFP/Getty Images.

The chaos soon spread to encompass Christians, Muslims and security forces — some Muslims had joined the estimated 1,000 Christians protesting at the television station. Despite a flare up in sectarian tensions, the violence also was directed at security forces.

(During a recent reporting trip to Egypt, Margaret Warner reported on simmering unrest in post-revolution Egypt.)

Officials say most of those killed were Coptic Christians. Many have accused the government of not adequately addressing recent attacks on churches. Coptic Christians make up roughly 10 percent of the population.

Jon Jensen, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Cairo, reported that Copts as well as some Muslims who had joined in the fight, “pointed fingers at a powerful military apparatus using Mubarak-style strongman tactics to quash the protests. But as is so often the case in the tumultuous post-uprising Egypt, it was not entirely clear how or why the turbulence on the streets escalated from bad to deadly.”

On Monday, vehicles were reportedly burned outside of a Coptic hospital where the injured were being treated. Funerals were scheduled for Monday afternoon at Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral, raising fears of more clashes as mourners converge to honor the victims of Sunday’s clashes.

In his address late Sunday, Sharaf said “[t]he most serious threat to the country’s security is tampering with national unity, and the stirring of discord between Muslim and Christian sons of Egypt.” An emergency cabinet meeting is scheduled to be held on Monday.

The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Cairo described a tense atmosphere as authorities moved to restore some semblance of order in the city with a curfew and the planned cabinet meeting:

“…Egyptians are still reeling with shock at this violence. The death toll in these clashes was the highest seen in years.”

Pictures shown in late editions of the newspapers show chaotic scenes and the gory result, bodies lying in morgues. “Egypt bleeds in Maspero” reads one headline. “Who is the behind the flare-ups?” asks another.

The clashes also have highlighted impatience with the country’s ruling generals, who stepped in after Mubarak resigned but have been slow to implement reforms and hold elections to create a civilian government.

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