At Least 19 Dead In Egypt Riots

Clashes between Coptic Christian protesters and the Egyptian military in Cairo on Sunday left at least 19 people dead and more than 100 wounded, according to official counts. The violence erupted after the Christians were marching to protest what they claim was an attack on a church in southern Egypt by radical Muslims.

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ROBERT SMITH, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith. In Cairo today, clashes between Coptic Christian protestors and the Egyptian military left at least 19 people dead and more than 100 wounded. The violence erupted after the Christians were marching to protest what they claimed was an attack on a church in southern Egypt by radical Muslims. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. So, Soraya, what's going on there today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, this was supposed to be a peaceful protest, and that's how it started. But unfortunately, it erupted into violence, and there are reports that some of the protestors picked up guns of the soldiers that had come out to, I guess, calm them or control them, and there are also reports that the military, in fact, used some of their vehicles to urn over protestors.

And so between that sort of violence with the gunfire, there was also rock throwing, vehicles being lit on fire, and all of downtown, this area around the state television building, which is where the protest was focused, erupted into incredible violence. And this violence then escalated to the point where again, some witnesses are reporting that people picked up guns and started firing at the soldiers. And in the end, there were many dead and many more wounded.

SMITH: So, Soraya, what is the initial tension here between the Coptic Christians and the Muslims?

NELSON: Since Mubarak - Hosni Mubarak, the former president left office in February, there's been an escalating tension between some of the more ultra conservative Muslims and the Christians here. And the feeling is that they're doing anything to try and prevent that or to stop the escalation. And in this case, we were talking about several churches, one church in particular in the city of Aswan in the south that had been attacked, and the Christians were demanding that this church be rebuilt and that people's homes that had been destroyed also be rebuilt.

SMITH: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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