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Egypt’s finance minister resigns to protest Copts’ slayings

Egyptian Finance Minister Hazem Beblawi resigned Tuesday in protest of the military-led government’s crackdown on Coptic Christian protesters this week that deepened sectarian tension and left 25 people dead and more than 300 injured.

“Despite the fact that there might not be direct responsibility on the government’s part, the responsibility lies, ultimately, on its shoulders,” the state news agency MENA quoted Beblawi as saying. “The current circumstances are very difficult and require a new and different way of thinking and working.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, his Cabinet and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have been heavily criticized by Copts and human rights organizations for the killing of protesters Sunday by security forces and for the failure to protect them from thugs who pelted Christians with rocks during a demonstration outside the Radio and Television Building in downtown Cairo.

The Copts were protesting the burning of a church in southern Egypt when gunshots rang out and armored personnel carriers sped into the crowd, running over dozens of demonstrators. State-controlled media reported that Copts carried “weapons and used them against military police soldiers.” Three soldiers were reported killed.

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Beblawi’s resignation came after thousands of Copts marched through the streets late Monday and early Tuesday in a funeral procession for 17 protesters. Beblawi, who was Sharaf’s deputy, was appointed finance minister in a Cabinet shake-up after protests in Tahrir Square in July.

Sharaf was quoted by MENA as saying that he had received Beblawi’s resignation but hadn’t yet accepted it, and that the matter was “under discussion.”

Egyptian news reports said Sharaf also had offered to resign, which is common after a crisis. But it was unlikely that the military would accept such a gesture, and Sharaf and his interim government continued working Tuesday.

The resignation comes one day after autopsy reports on 21 Coptic protesters revealed that the deaths were caused by bullets and bird shot and by injuries from stones and being run over by vehicles.

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In an attempt to calm Copts’ escalating anger, the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, has ordered the prime minister’s Cabinet to investigate Sunday’s violence. He also has ordered that a new law to protect the construction of churches and other houses of worship be drafted in the next two weeks.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for an impartial and thorough investigation that “should examine the role of the army and police officers” in the violence.

“Personal extremism against Copts from some soldiers was very obvious, and whether it was by the army’s knowledge or not, there was a plan to have infiltrators who’d attack and kill Coptic protesters,” said Fakhri Girgis Fakhri, who was among the mourners.

Officials have detained at least 21 suspects in the clashes.

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Hassan is a news assistant in The Times’ Cairo bureau. Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this report.


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