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Egyptian rulers reject minister's resignation

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:38 AM EDT, Thu June 21, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Military rulers reject Beblawi's resignation
  • Beblawi cited security when he submitted his resignation
  • At least 25 people were killed and dozens were wounded
  • There have been sectarian tension and violence in Egypt

(CNN) -- Egypt's military rulers have rejected the resignation of Hazen Beblawi, a top official who served as both the deputy prime minister and finance minister.

Finance Ministry spokesman Ibtisam Saad said Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, refused to accept the resignation Tuesday.

"The minister (Beblawi) is back to work as usual, and attending a meeting tomorrow with the cabinet to discuss business as usual," Saad told CNN.

An aide to Beblawi, who requested anonymity, said earlier Tuesday that the resignation was handed in because "security has not been established in the streets and the Maspiro crisis was not dealt with in an adequate manner."

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Maspiro, the area in front of the Egyptian state TV headquarters, was the site of the clashes Sunday night involving soldiers and pro-Coptic Christian protesters.

They left at least 25 people dead and 272 wounded, a health ministry official said Monday. Many of those killed were crushed by speeding military vehicles, said Dr. Adel al-Dawi of the ministry. Reports indicated the death toll could be as high as 29 in violence that an army spokesman speculated may have been guided by a "hidden hand" associated with neither side.

On Monday, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf chaired an emergency meeting after the worst violence to hit the North African nation since its revolution in February, promising a probe into what happened and vowing to ban all discrimination based on religion, language, gender or ethnicity.

Those at the National Justice Committee meeting deemed the incident "shocking" and said it marked a "serious escalation" in tensions in Egypt, according to a statement from Sharaf's office. It urged political and religious leaders to together take responsibility for the nation's security, while alluding to possible threats from conspiracies and sedition.

Specifically, the committee established a fact-finding commission that will look at the incident and punish those responsible. It also set a two-week deadline to establish a framework for a law to mandate a uniform process for permitting and constructing houses of worship -- regardless of religious denomination.

The committee also said the government would institute a law imposing jail time and a fine on anyone found guilty of discriminating against others based on religion, language, gender or ethnicity.

Hours earlier, Sharaf acknowledged the divisions and mounting security concerns, in a speech on state television.

"Instead of going forward, we found ourselves scrambling for security," the minister said, noting that the incident had produced "martyrs, both civilian and from the military."

Tensions remained high Monday, as hundreds of Coptic Christians rallied outside a hospital, chanting, "The army has its tanks, but we have our prayers." Some Muslims attended the rally in an expression of solidarity with Christians.

Egyptian security sources said stones were thrown at the rally, but a CNN reporter saw no evidence of that.

Sunday's violence was an escalation after months of rising sectarian tension between Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority.

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Destruction at a Coptic church site in southern Egypt September 30 heightened emotions. The Copts protested Sunday to demand that the military provide equal protection for Coptic places of worship.

Exactly how the violence broke out was unclear. Some protesters said stones were thrown by people in civilian garb who were carrying sticks and machetes. Alla Mahmoud, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said that some protesters began "firing live ammunition at the army."

Demonstrators said they were marching peacefully toward the Egyptian state television building when the violence erupted.

"Suddenly, we were attacked by thugs carrying swords and clubs," protester Magdi Hanna told CNN Sunday.

The January 25 youth revolution coalition, which has been involved in various anti-government protests, including Sunday's demonstration, denied that any participants shot at the Egyptian forces.

Since then-President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, the country remains unstable. The economy is struggling, tourism has yet to rebound and the stock market has dropped.

Coptic Christians, an ancient sect, make up about 9% of Egypt's largely Muslim population, according to the U.S. State Department. They base their theology on the teachings of the Apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt, according to St. Takla Church in Alexandria, the capital of Coptic Christianity.

The religion split with other Christians in the 5th century over the definition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan federal agency, added Egypt this year to a list of countries named as the worst violators of religious freedom.

There has also been mutual support between the minority Christians and majority Muslims in Egypt, with reports of Christians protecting anti-Mubarak Muslim demonstrators when they stopped for daily prayers during the uprising.

Egyptian Copts have suffered serious violence in recent months.

A Coptic church in the city of Alexandria was bombed on New Year's Day, killing 23 people -- the deadliest attack on Christians in Egypt in recent times. Clashes involving Coptic Christians in May left at least 12 dead.

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