Tense calm in Egypt city after clashes

Oct. 22, 2005 at 11:33 AM
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ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Egypt's Mediterranean port city of Alexandria was calm but tense Saturday, one day after violent clashes erupted between Islamic protesters and the police.

Security officials said the authorities arrested about 60 people Friday following demonstrations in front of the Coptic St. George Church in central Alexandria, where Islamists were protesting a play in the church they said was insulting the Muslim religion.

One demonstrator was killed as protesters tried to storm the church, which they also blamed for distributing CD's of the play they saw as offensive to Islam.

A series of protests started last week when hundreds of Muslims demonstrated in front of the church demanding that church leaders apologize for the play.

On Wednesday, a Muslim student stabbed and injured a Coptic nun inside the church and injured a man who tried to stop him.

The caretaker at St. George's Church, who identified himself as Father Augustinos, told UPI the play, titled "Once I was blind and now I see," was performed only once in 2003 and denied CD recordings were being distributed to school and university students in town.

The play is a comedy about a Christian man who renounces his religion and embraces Islam, after which he joins an Islamic militant group. After discovering the group's extremism, he returns to hide in a church as the militants seek to kill him.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood movement denied accusations by officials that the group was involved in the protests, saying the organization was working to ease tension between the angry Muslims and the church.

Earlier Saturday, the Coptic Church Patriarch, Pope Shnouda III, arrived in Alexandria in a previously-scheduled visit, where he was expected to join in an iftar feast, or the breaking of the dawn-to-dusk fast during the current Muslim month of Ramadan, with senior political and religious Muslim officials.

The interior ministry said it reinforced its security presence around Alexandria to prevent further demonstrations or sectarian clashes.

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