Egypt Christians end sit-in protest

Reuters , Saturday 21 May 2011

Coptic protesters at Maspero end 10 days sit-in after promises from government

Egyptian Christians holding a sit-in in downtown Cairo agreed to end nearly two weeks of protests on Friday, state television reported, after authorities promised to meet some of their demands.

Witnesses said some of the protestors had begun preparing to go home after one main protest leader, Father Metyas Nasr, an Orthodox priest, agreed to a government offer to free five young men detained on Thursday following clashes outside a church in the eastern Cairo suburb of Ain Shams.

MENA news agency said authorities will organise a meeting between Christian and Muslim clergymen on Saturday to discuss the subject of two closed churches in Ain Shams.

Nasr was not immediately available to comment.

Witnesses said the decision split the protestors, with some getting ready to leave immediately while others insisting that authorities must first meet their demands in full, including equality for Christians, reopening of all closed churches and trying suspects in previous church attacks.

"They were not happy with the compromise," one protester told Reuters by telephone.

"They say they want all of their rights achieved, not just to have some young men released from prison," he added.

The protest began after 12 people were killed on May 8 in clashes sparked by rumours that Christians were holding a woman who had converted to Islam.

The protesters decided to end their sit-in on Thursday after authorities agreed to open three churches, including one in Ain Shams. But they changed plans after clashes erupted while trying to open the Ain Shams church, in which eight Christians were detained, protestors said.

The country's ruling military council, under pressure to end sectarian tensions, has ordered new laws that criminalise sectarian violence and ease restrictions on building churches be drafted.

The cabinet statement said authorities would renovate churches damaged by violence and re-open a number of churches that were closed in the past by authorities without explanation. 

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had also promised in a statement made on May 11 that a unified law for building houses of worship will be created within 30 days. 

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