Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church on Monday blamed "infiltrators" for triggering last night’s clashes in Cairo’s Maspero district in which 25 people, most of them Christians, were killed.
"The Christian faith denounces violence,” the church said in a statement issued following a meeting between Coptic Pope Shenouda III and 70 church leaders. “Strangers infiltrated the demonstration and committed the crimes for which Copts are being blamed."
"Copts have suffered repeated problems while the aggressors have gone unpunished," the statement added, calling on authorities to "solve the root causes of the problems."
Shenouda has called on Coptic Christians to begin a three-day fast on Tuesday "to restore peace to Egypt."
Egyptian Copts, who account for 10 - 15 per cent of the country’s population of 85 million, complain of systematic discrimination and have occasionally been the target of attacks.
Since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February, tensions have mounted between Egypt’s armed forces – initially hailed for siding with anti-regime protesters during the recent revolution – and groups that spearheaded the uprising.
Activists charge that the army has been slow to carry out key demands of the revolution in terms of equal citizenship rights.