CAIRO: The head of Egypt’s Coptic church on Sunday called on Christians to "immediately" end their week-long sit-in, a day after fresh clashes left 78 injured further fuelling fears of widespread sectarian unrest.
"To all those protesting outside (the state television building), the situation has now gone beyond expression of opinion, you have been infiltrated by people whose style is different to yours," Pope Shenuda III said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.
"There have been scuffles and shooting and all this harms the reputation of Egypt as well as your reputation and so you must end this sit-in immediately," he said.
"What is happening does not please anyone… but you are the losers if this sit-in continues," he said.
Clashes between Muslims and Christians in the center of Cairo on Saturday have left 78 people wounded, the health ministry said, revising an earlier toll of 51.
"Most of the wounded suffer from fractures and bruises," said health ministry official Ayman Ragab, quoted by the MENA news agency. "No deaths were reported," he said.
The clashes broke out after an altercation between a young Muslim and Coptic Christians who have been staging a sit-in — to demand equality and an end to discrimination — outside the state television building in Cairo since May 7, after sectarian unrest last week that left 15 dead, police said.
The Muslim returned to the protest site with a group of friends and fired on the Christians with a hunting rifle, the sources said.
Clashes then erupted with rocks being thrown and a number of young Muslims arrived later and threw Molotov cocktails at the Christian protesters’ vehicles, police said.
Last week’s clashes broke out after Muslims surrounded a church in Cairo demanding the handover of a woman they said Christians had detained after she converted to Islam and left her Christian husband to marry a Muslim. The Muslims also set fire to a second church.
The unrest threatened to drive Egypt’s often tense religious tensions to the brink, prompting the military to arrest more than 200 people it said will swiftly be tried.
Copts account for up to 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people. They complain of discrimination, and have been the target of repeated sectarian attacks.