Tag Archive: CAIRO


Egypt closes Great Pyramid after rumors of rituals

http://news.yahoo.com/egypt-closes-great-pyramid-rumors-rituals-104026490.html

 

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s antiquities authority closed the largest of the Giza pyramids Friday following rumors that groups would try to hold spiritual ceremonies on the site at 11:11 A.M. on Nov. 11, 2011.

The authority’s head Mustafa Amin said in a statement Friday that the pyramid of Khufu, also known as Cheops, would be closed to visitors until Saturday morning for “necessary maintenance.”

The closure follows a string of unconfirmed reports in local media that unidentified groups would try to hold “Jewish” or “Masonic” rites on the site to take advantage of mysterious powers coming from the pyramid on the rare date.

Amin called all reports of planned ceremonies at the site “completely lacking in truth.”

The complex’s director, Ali al-Asfar, said Friday that an Egyptian company requested permission last month to hold an event called “hug the pyramid,” in which 120 people would join hands around the ancient burial structure.

The authority declined the request a week ago, al-Asfar said, but that did not stop concerned Egyptians from starting internet campaigns to prevent the event from taking place.

“It has been a big cause now on Facebook and Twitter for many people to write about,” al-Asfar said.

The closure was unrelated to the rumors, he said, adding that the pyramid needed maintenance after the large number of visitors during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday last week.

The rest of the complex, which includes two other large pyramids, numerous tombs and the Sphinx, remained open Friday, though security appeared to be heavier than usual.

Dozens of police officers and soldiers were posted throughout the complex. Some patrolled on camel-back. One soldier stood next to his machine gun near a souvenir shop selling miniature pyramids.

Speaking by phone from the pyramids after 11:11 had passed, al-Asfar said he’d seen nothing out of the ordinary.

“Everything is normal,” he said. “The only thing different is the closure of the Khufu pyramid.”

Khufu is credited with building the Giza complex’s largest pyramid, now one of Egypt’s main tourist attractions. Khufu founded the 4th Dynasty around 2680 B.C. and ruled Egypt for 23 years.

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Arab strongman: With Gadhafi death, an era passes

FILE - This undated photo shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. A U.S. official says Libya's new government has told the United States that Gadhafi, 69, is dead. The official said Libya's Transitional National Council informed U.S. officials in Libya of the development Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. His death on Thursday, confirmed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, came as Libyan fighters defeated Gadhafi's last holdouts in his hometown of Sirte, the last major site of resistance in the country. (AP Photo/File)http://news.yahoo.com/arab-strongman-gadhafi-death-era-passes-151535237.html

CAIRO (AP) — He often looked like a comical buffoon, standing before audiences, bedecked in colorful robes, spouting words that most of the world considered nonsense.

Yet the death of Moammar Gadhafi was a milestone in modern Arab history, in some ways more significant than the overthrow of lesser autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

Gadhafi was the last of the old-style Arab strongmen — the charismatic, nationalist revolutionaries who rose to power in the 1950s and 1960s, promising to liberate the masses from the shackles of European colonialism and the stultifying rule of the Arab elite that the foreigners left behind after World War II.

He was swept aside by a new brand of revolutionary — the leaderless crowds organized by social media, fed up with the oppressive past, keenly aware that the rest of the world has left them behind and convinced that they can build a better society even if at the moment, they aren’t sure how.

Gadhafi was the last of a generation of Arab leaders such as Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, Hafez Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq who emerged from poverty, rising to the pinnacle of power either through the ranks of the military or the disciplined, conspiratorial world of underground political organizations.

None of the latter crop of Arab autocrats, including Assad’s son Bashar, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and even Egypt’s colorless, ousted president Hosni Mubarak, could rival them in their heyday in terms of charisma, flair, stature and power.

Their model was Nasser, the towering champion of Arab unity who ousted Western-backed King Farouk in 1952 and inspired Arab peoples with fiery speeches broadcast by Egyptian radio from Iraq to Mauritania.

But Nasser’s dreams of Arab unity and social revival crumbled in defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Nasser died three years later, and the fellow strongmen left behind led their countries instead into a political swamp of corruption, cronyism and dictatorship now challenged by the Arab Spring.

The hallmark of the Arab strongman was unquestioned power, the use of state media to promote a larger than life image and a ruthless security network that stifled even a whiff of dissent. That worked in an age before the Internet and global satellite television which opened the eyes of the strongman’s followers to a world without secret police and economic systems run by the leader’s family and cronies.

The Arab political transformation is far from complete. Autocratic rulers are facing challenges from their own people in Yemen and Syria. Bahrain’s Shiite majority is pressing the Sunni monarchy for reform. Rulers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are maneuvering to contain the Arab Spring.

Iraq is struggling to build a democracy eight years after American-led arms brought down Saddam’s rule.

With Gadhafi’s passing, however, a milestone has been passed. The future belongs to a different style of ruler, whoever it may be.

It may be difficult to imagine that the Gadhafi of his final years — with his flamboyant robes, dark and curly wigs and sagging, surgically altered face — was a trim, handsome, vigorous 27-year-old when he came to power as a strong and vigorous leader. Over the years he had become a caricature figure associated with grandiose dreams such as a “United States of Africa” or seizing all of Israel and sending Jews “back to Europe.”

Even when he was younger, eccentricity was the mark of Gadhafi’s public persona.

A generation ago, President Ronald Reagan described him as the “mad dog of the Middle East,” and his fellow Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat considered him a dangerous megalomaniac.

Journalists covered his speeches and international visits primarily for amusement.

Images of Gadhafi’s final moments — toupee gone, terrified, confused, powerless in the grip of men who may be about to kill him — make the ousted tyrant appear more pitiable than powerful.

All that was far from his image when he and his comrades toppled a Western-backed monarchy in 1969 in a bloodless coup, promising to transform his poor, backwater country into a modern state.

Promising a new era for his people, Gadhafi closed a U.S. air base, forced international oil companies to hand over most of their profits from Libyan oil to the Libyan state and shook the world with his unabashed support for terrorist or insurgent movements in Northern Ireland, Palestine, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Oil gave him a reach beyond his sparsely populated desert land and enabled him to pursue his revolutionary dreams.

In the 1980s, the lobbies of Tripoli’s few hotels were populated by representatives of what the West considered the most dangerous groups on Earth — stiff North Koreans wearing lapel buttons of their leader Kim Il-Sung, Palestinian extremists huddled over cups of sweet tea, European anarchists and revolutionaries — all come to town to seek the oil-fueled largesse of the “Brother Leader.”

While insisting that Libya was the freest nation on Earth, Gadhafi ruthlessly suppressed dissent, dispatched agents to assassinate his opponents abroad and drove thousands of Libyans into exile.

It all came crashing down in the final battle in his hometown of Sirte. A man who came to power as an Arab revolutionary and self-styled leader of the oppressed and downtrodden died a brutal and inglorious death at the hands of the people he purported to lead.

___

Eds: Robert H. Reid is Middle East regional editor for The Associated Press and has reported from the Middle East since 1978.

Clashes resume between Egyptian Christians, police

CAIRO (AP) — Security officials say clashes between Christian protesters and Egyptian security forces have resumed, with hundreds pelting the police with rocks outside a central Cairo hospital.

 

At least 24 people were killed when Christians, angered by a recent church attack, clashed Sunday night with Muslims and security forces outside the state television building in central Cairo.

 

The officials say Monday’s clashes took place outside a Cairo hospital where bodies of Christian victims were kept.

 

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, had no word on casualties.

 

The latest violence comes hours before funeral services for the victims were to be held at the Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo.

 

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

 

CAIRO (AP) — Deadly clashes between angry Christians, Muslims and security forces have dealt a serious setback to Egypt’s transition to civilian rule, the country’s prime minister said Monday, hours after 24 people were killed in the worst violence since the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

 

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the violence, which also left 272 wounded, was part of a “dirty conspiracy” and called on Egyptians to unite in the face of what he called meddling by foreign and domestic hands in their nation’s affairs.

 

“These events have taken us back several steps,” Sharaf said in a televised address. “Instead of moving forward to build a modern state on democratic principles, we are back to seeking stability and searching for hidden hands — domestic and foreign — that meddle with the country’s security and safety.”

 

A military council led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, defense minister of 20 years under the former regime, took over after an 18-day popular uprising forced Mubarak to step down. The military initially pledged to hand back power to a civilian administration in six months, but that deadline has gone by, with parliamentary elections now scheduled to start in late November. According to a timetable floated by the generals, presidential elections could be held late next year.

 

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, blame the country’s ruling military council for being too lenient on those behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks since Mubarak’s ouster. As Egypt undergoes a chaotic power transition and security vacuum in the wake of the uprising, the Coptic Christian minority is particularly worried about the show of force by ultraconservative Islamists.

 

Sunday’s violence will likely prompt the military to further tighten its grip on power. Already, it said it had no intention to lift the widely hated emergency laws in place since Mubarak first took office in 1981. Tension also has been growing between the military and the youth groups that engineered the uprising, with activists blaming the generals for mishandling the transition period, human rights violations and driving a wedge between them and ordinary Egyptians.

 

The European Union condemned the violence, with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton saying it was for Egypt “to protect your people, whoever they are, wherever they come from or whatever belief or faith they have.”

 

Egypt’s official news agency, meanwhile, reported that dozens of “instigators of chaos” have been arrested following Sunday’s violence, sparked by a recent attack on a church in southern Egypt.

 

The MENA news agency did not say whether those arrested were Christians or Muslims, but security officials said most of the 24 killed were Christians and that they may have included one or two Muslims. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

 

Egypt’s state television said authorities on Monday stepped up security at vital installations in anticipation of renewed unrest, deploying additional troops outside parliament and the Cabinet. Riot police were also stationed outside the Coptic hospital where most of the victims’ bodies are kept. Funeral services are due in the afternoon at the main Coptic Cathedral in Cairo.

 

The rioting in downtown Cairo had lasted until late into the night, bringing out more than 1,000 security forces and armored vehicles to defend the Nile-side state television building where the trouble began.

 

The clashes spread from outside the TV building to nearby Tahrir Square, drawing thousands of people to the vast plaza that served as the epicenter of the protests that ousted Mubarak. On Sunday night, they battled each other with rocks and firebombs, some tearing up pavement for ammunition and others collecting stones in boxes.

 

The clashes did not appear to be exclusively sectarian.

 

State TV, which has increasingly become loyal to the military, appealed on “honorable” Egyptians to protect the army against attacks as news spread of clashes between the Christian protesters and the troops outside the TV building. Soon afterward, bands of young men armed with sticks, rocks, swords and firebombs began to roam central Cairo, attacking Christians. Troops and riot police did not intervene to stop the attacks on Christians.

 

Throughout the night, the station cast the Christian protesters as a violent mob attacking the army and public property. At one point, Information Minister Osama Heikal went on the air to deny that the station’s coverage had a sectarian slant, but acknowledged that its presenters acted “emotionally.”

 

At one point, an armored army van sped into the crowd, striking several protesters and throwing some into the air. Protesters retaliated by setting fire to military vehicles, a bus and private cars, sending flames rising into the night sky.

 

The Christian protesters said their demonstration began as a peaceful attempt to sit in at the TV building. Then, the protesters said, they came under attack by thugs in plainclothes who rained stones down on them and fired pellets.

 

“The protest was peaceful. We wanted to hold a sit-in, as usual,” said Essam Khalili, a protester wearing a white shirt with a cross on it. “Thugs attacked us and a military vehicle jumped over a sidewalk and ran over at least 10 people. I saw them.”

 

Khalili said protesters set fire to army vehicles when they saw them hitting the protesters.

 

Ahmed Yahia, a Muslim resident who lives near the TV building, said he saw the military vehicle plow into protesters. “I saw a man’s head split into two halves and a second body flattened when the armored vehicle ran over it. When some Muslims saw the blood they joined the Christians against the army,” he said.

 

Television footage showed the military vehicle slamming into the crowd. Coptic protesters were shown attacking a soldier, while a priest tried to protect him.

 

In the past weeks, riots have broken out at two churches in southern Egypt, prompted by Muslim crowds angry over church construction. One riot broke out near the city of Aswan, even after church officials agreed to a demand by ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis that a cross and bells be removed from the building.

 

Aswan’s governor, Gen. Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, further raised tensions by suggesting to the media that the church construction was illegal.

 

Protesters said the Copts are demanding the ouster of the governor, reconstruction of the church, compensation for people whose houses were set on fire and prosecution of those behind the riots and attacks on the church.

http://news.yahoo.com/clashes-resume-between-egyptian-christians-police-101822266.html

 

 

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0815/Case-against-Egypt-s-Mubarak-is-shoddy-say-some-lawyers

Cairo

Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarakappeared in court Monday as advocates for a guilty verdict complained that the state’s case against him was shoddy.

Mr. Mubarak is charged with corruption and with ordering the killing of hundreds who died in the uprising that swept him from power on Feb. 11 this year. Without a thorough and fair investigation of those charges, some worry that a Mubarak conviction would be hollow – and undermine the people’s faith in the justice system at a delicate time of transition.

Lawyer Gamal Eid said that the state should conduct a new investigation and that the prosecutor general should resign.

“This is a very important step in the path of regaining or restoring the trust in the Egyptian judiciary,” says Mr. Eid, who is representing families of 16 of the more than 800 people killed in the uprising.

Trial resumes Sept. 5; no more TV coverage

Nearly 100 lawyers swarmed near the front of the courtroom hours before the hearing began Monday, their shouting matches at times turning to pushing and shoving as they argued over their demands. Judge Ahmed Refaat sharply rebuked them when he took the stand, refusing to continue until they were seated and quiet.

Lawyers representing the family members of some of those who died were pleased that Judge Refaat ruled that Mubarak’s case would be rejoined with that of Egypt’s former Interior Minister, Habib El Adly, who is also charged with killing protesters. The trial will resume Sept. 5.

But Mr. Eid says that the police and prosecution have done a poor job of investigating the crimes and putting together a case, thereby jeopardizing justice. He said that the state prosecutor, who was a part of Mubarak’s regime, must be removed, and the judge should appoint a committee to redo the whole investigation from scratch, he said.

Lawyers have also asked to separate the charges of corruption and the killing of protesters into two separate cases, though the judge has not done so. Mubarak, Mr. El Adly, and El Adly’s deputies are charged with ordering the killing of protesters, while the former president, his two sons, and fugitive businessman Hussein Salem are also charged with corruption.

Refaat also ruled that the live broadcast of the hearings would be banned until the verdict is issued, and his decision was met with applause in the courtroom. While protesters had demanded that the trial be broadcast as proof of transparency, some lawyers now hope that taking away the cameras will tame the chaotic behavior of scores of lawyers representing victims’ families, as some of them have seemed to relish seizing the limelight on national television.

Courtroom calls for Mubarak’s execution

As in his first appearance, Mubarak was wheeled into the cage used for defendants in Egyptian courts Monday on a hospital bed, this time for his second appearance, he arrived with an IV. His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, again stood in front of him, partially blocking him from the cameras.

The stands were mostly filled with journalists, lawyers, and state security conscripts, with many empty seats and few family members of victims allowed to attend. At one point, a woman wearing a brooch with a picture of Mubarak burst into a tirade directed at journalists who were commenting on the color of the former president’s shoes, accusing them of humiliating Mubarak. Those around her were drawn into a shouting match.

As the hearing ended, several family members of victims and lawyers jumped up onto the benches, gesturing toward the cage and shouting “execution!”

 

 

 

 

Egypt’s Mubarak to be tried over protester deaths

Hosni Mubarakhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110524/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_egypt

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press 34 mins ago

CAIRO – Egypt’s ex-President Hosni Mubarak will stand trial on charges of conspiring in the deadly shootings of protesters during the uprising that ousted him, the prosecutor-general said Tuesday, a major step in a country still rattled by protests and demands for justice.

The 83-year-old leader and his two sons also were charged with abusing power to amass wealth, enriching associates and accepting bribes, the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement.

A date has not been set for the trial in criminal court. The prosecutor general spokesman Adel el-Said told The Associated Press the charges against Mubarak for his alleged role in the killing of protesters by security forces could carry the death penalty.

“The sons and the businessman have nothing to do with the charges of the killing of protesters,” he said. “Mubarak and some police chiefs are charged with that.”

Putting Mubarak on trial is a key demand of many Egyptians who have rallied to demand the ousted leader and his aides face justice. A close associate of Mubarak, Hussein Salem, also was charged. He is at large.

Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11 and transferred power to the military after an 18-day popular uprising. At least 846 protesters were killed, according to a government fact-finding mission.

Mubarak has been in custody in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since last month. His two sons are in detention in a Cairo prison.

The Mubaraks and other members of the former regime have been the subject of legal efforts to bring them to trial since the ex-president was forced to resign on Feb. 11. Egypt’s former security chief and four of his top aides are already on trial in the shooting of protesters.

Earlier this month, Tunisia’s toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was charged along with his wife of inciting violence in the bloody crackdown on the popular uprising there. Ben Ali has fled to Saudi Arabia.

But after the initial euphoria in Egypt of a successful uprising, protesters have become impatient and stepped up demands that reforms and promises be carried out.

Mubarak’s prosecution has been complicated by his health condition. He has been interrogated in the hospital, but an order by the prosecutor to transfer him to prison during the investigation was overturned on grounds the prison health facilities were not ready to receive him. He was never moved to a military hospital as suggested by the prosecutor.

Protesters took to the streets several times demanding a speedy trial for Mubarak and his sons.

The calls were aggravated two weeks ago by reports suggesting the military rulers might grant Mubarak amnesty. The reports sparked a wave of criticism and calls for mass rallies to demand justice. The anger prompted a quick denial from the military rulers.

The statement from prosecutor-general Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid on Tuesday accused Mubarak of having “conspired” with the former security chief and other officers to shoot and kill protesters who took to the streets starting Jan. 25. The decision comes ahead of a planned Friday protest dubbed “Egypt’s second revolution,” to demand Mubarak be put on trial and that all remnants of his regime be uprooted, including the hated emergency laws that remain on the books more than three months after his ouster.

Activist Hossam Hamalawi said the Friday protests will go ahead because there are other unmet demands besides trial for Mubarak. “It has to be a public trial, aired minute by minute,” he said. “It is not a legal process as much as it is a political one.”

Abdel-Meguid also charged Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, with using their authority and power to enrich himself and business associate Salem.

Prosecution spokesman Adel al-Said said Mubarak’s sons are still being interrogated on other accusations.

The prosecutor had earlier ordered the freezing of the assets of Mubarak and his family. His 70-year- old wife Suzanne was released after she relinquished assets and property valued at $4 million. The move aimed to settle corruption allegations against her, but it was unclear whether she would still face trial.

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Authorities detain wife of deposed Egyptian leader

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110513/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_egypt

CAIRO – Egyptian authorities on Friday ordered the detention of Suzanne Mubarak, wife of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, the government-run MENA news agency reported.

The move came a day after the government said Mubarak and his wife were questioned over suspicions they illegally amassed vast wealth.

MENA said prosecutors ordered Suzanne Mubarak, who is 70, detained for 15 days pending further investigation of the allegations. It was not immediately clear where she would be held.

The 83-year-old former president is in a hospital in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Hosni Mubarak had been questioned several times, but Thursday was the first time his wife faced interrogation.

MENA said Suzanne Mubarak was asked about 20 million Egyptian pounds ($3.3 million) held in her name in one of the Cairo banks as well as a luxurious home in Cairo.

Both Suzanne Mubarak and her husband were questioned in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where they have been staying since he was deposed Feb. 11 by a popular uprising. She has been staying in the town in their villa, which has an estimated value of 36 million pounds ($6 million).

A report by a financial oversight body said that Mubarak and his family had numerous bank accounts in foreign and local currencies, luxury apartments and palaces and valuable land holdings. Some estimate his fortune in the tens of billions of dollars.

Mubarak denies the allegations.

Mubarak also faces charges over deaths of protesters during the uprising.

Mobs set Egypt churches on fire, 12 killed

Firemen fight a fire at a church surrounded by angry Muslims in the Imbaba neighborhood in Cairo late Saturday, May 7, 2011. Christians and Muslims fohttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110508/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_egypt_sectarian_clashes

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press 29 mins ago

CAIRO – Muslim mobs set two churches on fire overnight in Cairo during sectarian clashes that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured. The deepening religious violence in military-ruled Egypt added news tensions to an already chaotic and lawless transition to democracy.

Military authorities arrested 190 people, immediately sending them to military prosecutions and threatening the maximum penalty against anyone attacking houses of worship. It was the military’s toughest response yet to a series of violent clashes between the two religious groups and signifies swift justice.

Mobs of ultraconservative Muslims attacked the St. Menas church in the Cairo slum of Imbaba late Saturday following rumors that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man had been abducted. Local residents said a separate mob of youths armed with knives and machetes attacked the Virgin Mary church several blocks away with firebombs.

“People were scared to come near them,” said local resident Adel Mohammed, 29, who lives near the Virgin Mary Church. “They looked scary. They threw their firebombs at the church and set parts of it ablaze.”

During Egypt’s 18-day uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak several months ago, there was a rare spirit of brotherhood between Muslims and Christians. Each group protected the other during prayer sessions in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution.

But in the months that followed the toppling of Mubarak on Feb. 11, there has been a sharp rise in sectarian tensions, fueled in part by newly active ultraconservative Muslim movement, known as the Salafis.

The once quiescent Salafis have become more assertive post-revolution in trying to spread their ultraconservative version of an Islamic way of life. In particular, they have focused their wrath on Egypt’s Christians, who make up 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people.

On Friday, a few hundred Salafis marched through Cairo celebrating al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and condemning the U.S. operation that killed him.

Egypt’s state news agency said of those killed, at least six Muslims and at least three Christians were among those killed. The body of one Christian was found inside the St. Menas church, the agency said. The Health Ministry said 12 had died and more than 230 were injured, at least 11 of them critically.

The clashes were set off Saturday around sundown when word spread around the low-income neighborhood of Imbaba that a Christian woman who married a Muslim was abducted and is being kept in the church against her will.

The report, which was never confirmed by local religious figures, sent a large mob of Muslims toward the St. Menas church. Christians created a human barricade around the church and clashes erupted. Gunfire sounded across the neighborhood, and witnesses said people on rooftops nearby were firing into the crowd.

Muslims alleged the Christians opened fire first. Then crowds of hundreds of Muslims from the neighborhood, in many parts instigated by the local ultraconservative Salafi sheiks, converged on the area. They lobbed firebombs at homes and shops and also at St. Menas church, setting its facade on fire.

Residents say Christians were hiding inside. Muslims were chanting: “With our blood and soul, we defend you Islam.”

The army and police tried to break up the crowd by firing tear gas, but failed to clear the streets. Troops surrounded the church after the fire was put out.

Later the same night, witnesses said a separate Muslim mob, mostly youths armed with machetes and knives, moved to the Virgin Mary church nearby and also set it on fire.

The mob then dispersed to side streets, and local residents, including the neighborhood’s Muslims, tried to put out the fire. At one point, they attempted to get into the closed mosque opposite the church to get water. But the youthful mob armed with knives blocked Mohammed and others in his group.

“They told us keep the mosque out of it,” said Mohammed, who lives near the church. “They were thugs. The way they talk, they have no religious or political views.”

He said the firefighters and security arrived on the scene more than an hour later.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, angry residents stormed a six-story building near the St. Menas, saying Christians used it to shoot at Muslims.

“They were shooting from the roof, and they killed Muslims,” said 18-year old Yehia Ramadan. “We won’t stand by idle.”

Flames were coming out of windows, and furniture were strewn along the sidewalks. The building appeared to be empty, but it was not clear when its residents fled.

Islamic clerics denounced the violence, sounding alarm bells at the escalating tension during the transitional period.

“These events do not benefit either Muslim or Copts,” Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Sheik of al-Azhar told the daily Al-Ahram.

In the deadliest violence since Mubarak’s ouster, 13 were killed in pitched street battles in March after Muslims torched a church. That violence was also triggered by rumors of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Christian man.

A New Year’s Eve suicide bombing outside a Coptic church in the port city of Alexandria killed 21 people, setting off days of protests. Egypt made some arrests but never charged anyone with the attack.

UN to send teams to Syria as 6 die in clashes

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110506/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 12 mins ago

SOFIA, Bulgaria – United Nation’s chief says Syria has agreed to allow U.N. teams to go into the country and check the humanitarian situation there.

Ban Ki-moon spoke in Bulgaria Friday, as Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters Friday, killing at least six people as thousands joined demonstrations across the country calling for an end to President Bashar Assad’s regime, witnesses and activists said.

Ban said Assad agreed to allow U.N. humanitarian teams during a phone call.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters Friday, killing at least six people as thousands joined demonstrations across the country calling for an end to President Bashar Assad’s regime, witnesses and activists said.

Syrian authorities also detained Riad Seif, a leading opposition figure and former lawmaker who has been an outspoken critic of the regime during the seven-week uprising, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Five people were killed in the central city of Homs and one was killed in Hama, said a senior member of a human rights group that compiles death toll figures in Syria.

Like most activists and witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals by the government.

“We were chanting, peaceful, peaceful, and we didn’t even throw a stone at the security forces,” said a witness in Homs. “But they waited for us to reach the main square and then they opened fire on us.”

From Hama, footage posted on YouTube showed protesters frantically trying to resuscitate a man lying on the ground with a bloodied face and shirt, while people shouted “God is great!”

The protesters turned out Friday despite a bloody crackdown on the uprising. More than 565 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since the revolt began in March, according to rights groups.

Rallies were held in major areas including the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs, the central city of Homs, Banias on the coast and Qamishli in the northeast.

“The people want to topple the regime!” protesters shouted, echoing the cries heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Witnesses also reported some of the tightest security seen since the protests began in mid-March. In the Damascus suburb of Douma, scene of intense protests over recent weeks, security forces cordoned off the area to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

A witness near Douma said he saw a train carrying about 15 army tanks heading north Thursday evening toward the central province of Homs, another site of recent violence.

Another activist in Damascus said hundreds of people marched in the central neighborhood of Midan. In Banias, witnesses said more than 5,000 people carrying olive branches and Syrian flags also were calling for regime change.

They were among several demonstrations and marches planned for Friday, the main day of protests in the Arab world, for what activists were calling a “Day of Defiance.”

More than 565 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since an anti-regime uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, began in March, according to rights groups.

The activists said security forces set up checkpoints and closed some areas that experienced protests in recent weeks.

In the southern city of Daraa, where the army announced the end to an 11-day military operation Thursday, residents said troops were still in the streets, causing some would-be demonstrators to be wary of taking part in a planned protest Friday.

“There’s a tank stationed at each corner in Daraa. There is no way people can hold a protest today,” a resident said by telephone. “It means more killing. Daraa is taking a break. We don’t want to see more killing or face tank guns.”

The activists spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said a medical team reached Daraa on Thursday with trucks carrying humanitarian goods and medical supplies. The ICRC’s head of delegation in Damascus, Marianne Gasser, said helping people in Daraa is a priority “because it is the city that has been hardest hit by the ongoing violence.”

The ICRC had appealed to Syrian authorities earlier in the week to allow it to access to Daraa after being unable to reach the city previously while it was under siege by security forces.

Assad is determined to crush the revolt that has now become the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year dynasty. He has tried a combination of brute force, intimidation and promises of reform to quell the unrest, but his attempts have failed so far.

Security forces have repeatedly opened fire on protesters during rallies around the country in the past week and last Friday at least 65 people were killed, according to rights groups.

The mounting death toll — and the siege in Daraa — has only served to embolden protesters who are now demanding nothing less than the end of Assad’s regime. There also has been growing international condemnation of the government’s tactics.

Syria blames the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and “terrorist groups” that it says have taken advantage of protests.

The uprising in Syria was sparked by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Daraa. Protests spread quickly across the nation of some 23 million people.

Assad inherited power from his father in 2000.

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Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue

Libyan forces battle rebels on Tunisian border

Libyan soldiers loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi are seen in the city of Tarhounahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_libya

By Lin Noueihed and Abdelaziz Boumzar Lin Noueihed And Abdelaziz Boumzar 1 hr 40 mins ago

TRIPOLI/DEHIBA, Tunisia (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi battled rebels on Thursday for control of a border crossing into Tunisia, provoking an angry protest from Tunis as fighting spilled on to its territory.

Early in the day Gaddafi’s troops stormed the Dehiba-Wazin crossing on Libya’s western frontier, in what appeared to be part of a broader government offensive to root out rebel outposts beyond their eastern heartland.

Tunisia strongly condemned incursions by government forces, when Libyan artillery shells also struck the Tunisian side of the crossing, and demanded that the Libyans put a stop to them.

“Given the gravity of what has happened … the Tunisian authorities have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

Rebels rapidly staged a counter-offensive for the border post they took only a week ago, and which controls the sole supply road for rebels in Libya’s Western Mountains.

Both sides in the civil war, where Gaddafi is fighting to prolong more than four decades of rule over the oil-producing nation, also disputed whether government forces had overrun a remote desert town in the southeast of the country.

After weeks of advances and retreats by rebel and government forces along the Mediterranean coast, fighting has settled into a pattern of clashes and skirmishes.

Nowhere was the fog of war thicker than at Dehiba-Wazin crossing.

“Fighting broke out on Tunisian territory, in Dehiba, after Gaddafi’s forces attacked the border crossing,” said Ali, a Tunisian involved in helping Libyans arriving in Dehiba, adding that the rebels had withdrawn into Tunisia.

Gaddafi’s soldiers apologized to their Tunisian counterparts for the incursion and hoisted their flag at the border, tearing down a pre-Gaddafi era flag that had fluttered for a few days.

Libyan state television said some rebels had been killed and others taken prisoner in the recapture of the border post.

The counter-attack came rapidly. “The rebels in the mountains are firing at the Libyan positions,” said Reuters cameraman Abdelaziz Boumzar.

Rebel Akram el Muradi said the battle was going the rebels’ way. “Gaddafi’s forces are going out and leaving, the Libyan freedom fighters are chasing them,” he said.

However, he admitted that the battle was not over and Boumzar, who was watching the fighting from Tunisian territory, said government soldiers were still at the post.

“BALL IN NATO’S COURT”

In the confusion, scores of vehicles headed for the border from the Tunisian side with civilians on board shouting “We’ve won! We’ve won!” but they made a swift turn back when they found Gaddafi’s forces were still there.

Loss of the crossing would cut off rebels in the Western Mountains from their only road to the outside world, making them rely on rough tracks for supplies of food, fuel and medicine.

Government troops again shelled the besieged rebel outpost of Misrata, where aid ships bring in emergency supplies and evacuate the wounded, killing at least nine civilians, one rebel spokesman said. There was no independent confirmation.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said from Misrata that there had been sporadic clashes on the road to the port and shelling of residential areas. “Those areas are packed with civilians who fled the fighting in the city center,” he said.

“The ball is now in NATO’s court. After Gaddafi’s soldiers and snipers were driven out from the city center and Tripoli Street by the rebel fighters, their strategy has been to shell the city from the outskirts. This can only be solved by NATO.”

The Western alliance has been conducting air strikes on Libya since last month under a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for civilians to be protected.

But it has been reluctant to fire on Gaddafi’s forces in Misrata for fear of hitting civilians, although rebels said on Wednesday it had destroyed 37 military vehicles overnight.

An international aid ship, with 850 migrant workers who were evacuated from Misrata during a lull in shelling, docked in Benghazi on Thursday. The workers, mostly from Niger, were being taken to the Egyptian border for repatriation.

KUFRA “PURIFIED”

Gaddafi forces also took a town in the remote southeastern desert, state television reported. “Libyan forces have seized full control of the town of Kufra and purified it of the armed gangs,” it quoted a military spokesman as saying.

But rebels in their Benghazi stronghold denied the town had fallen. “Gaddafi’s forces have been shelling Kufra since this morning and in the afternoon they entered the town. But they are not in full control. The battle is not over and the situation is unclear,” said rebel spokesman Mohamed al-Muntasser.

In the Western Mountains, Zintan came under heavy fire for a second day from Russian-made missiles. “Today alone, 80 missiles hit the town. We knew they were Grad missiles by the sound they make and we checked what remained of them,” a rebel spokesman, identifying himself as Abdulrahman, said by telephone.

Gaddafi denies his forces are attacking civilians and says his opponents are Islamist militants and foreign-backed agitators who deliberately put non-combatants in harm’s way.

The U.S. Treasury has moved to permit oil deals with the rebel council in Benghazi, which is struggling to provide funding for the battle-scarred areas under its control.

Trading house Vitol has shipped at least one cargo of diesel to the rebels, easing the fuel shortage and potentially unlocking more Libyan oil for export to the West.

Libya is producing only a fraction of its pre-war output and its refineries are idle, so the rebels have been looking to clinch swap deals that involve selling oil and getting oil products in exchange. Trade sources said a diesel cargo on the tanker Delos was loaded in Malta and shipped to Benghazi just over a week ago.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Algiers, Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Deepa Babington and Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Tarek Amara in Tunis, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sami Aboudi in Cairo, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Jessica Donati in London; writing by David Stamp; Editing by Alison Williams)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20110423/wl_time/08599206696000

By ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER / CAIRO Abigail Hauslohner / Cairo Sat Apr 23, 1:15 am ET

Reports of a thaw in Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic ties has created a stir in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and its neighbor, Israel. Indeed, even as Egypt struggles to iron out its own emerging political system after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, Cairo’s foreign policy is also undergoing a sea change. “If you look at Egypt over the last 20 years, it just hasn’t played a very serious role in the foreign affairs of the region,” says Gary Sick a Persian Gulf expert at Columbia University, who served on the National Security Council under three U.S. presidents. For decades, in fact, the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak acted as little more than a “foreign policy cardboard standup” to its powerful ally and benefactor, the United States. But all that is about to change, he says. “Many of the countries that now have new leaders are going to reset their foreign affairs,” Sick predicts. “And the United States is going to have to get used to that.”

For post-revolutionary Egypt’s new leaders and politicians, forging a new foreign policy means pushing back against much of what Mubarak stood for. That clearly includes Egypt’s perceived puppet-like status to the United States, Europe, and Israel. “Let us eat the way we want, dress the way we want. Let us organize ourselves the way we want to,” says Kamal Habib, a Salafi politician, who was jailed for a decade under Mubarak for his affiliation with a violent jihadist organization. “We don’t want to repeat the Mubarak-American relationship again.” (See pictures of the mass demonstrations in Egypt.)

Habib’s opinion applies to more than just his Salafist cohorts. Many Egyptians want to hit the reset button on their country’s stance on Palestinian statehood, as well as its posture toward the Gaza Strip, where it has helped to enforce an Israeli-led blockade for four years. Most recently, it also includes re-thinking a decades-old enmity with Iran.

Earlier this month, Egypt’s new Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi called for a normalization of relations between the two countries. Tehran and Cairo cut off diplomatic ties following the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, both of which occured in 1979. Earlier this week, reports filtered out that Iran had appointed an ambassador to Cairo, sparking a flurry of speculation on the future of the relationship. Both countries later denied that the step had been taken. But Egyptian state media reported that Iran’s foreign minister has been invited to visit Cairo. And on Thursday Iran’s state-run Press TV announced that Iranian tourism agencies had signed a deal with Egypt to facilitate tourism between the two countries.

For western policy-makers and the Israeli government, the newfound warmth has set off alarm bells. At the very least, they say, it’s not a positive sign for the countries seeking to isolate Iran in an effort to halt its suspected work to build nuclear weapons.

See TIME’s most influential people of 2011.

See TIME’s exclusive photos in “Uprising in Cairo.”

But it may not be a such bad sign either – at least as far as the U.S., Europe, and other countries in the Middle East are concerned. Other Arab states that have normalized relations with Iran, like Qatar and Oman, have proven useful intermediaries at times between the rogue republic and its western adversaries. In tandem with Brazil, Turkey, the largest non-Arab Muslim nation in the area, independently negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran when Western efforts at coercion failed. (The agreement did not stick because Western officials declared that it did not meet conditions set by the U.N.) But, while Turkey’s success may have proven embarrassing to U.S. leadership because Washington wasn’t responsible for the deal, Sick says, “the opportunity to actually have a valuable interlocutor between the United States and Iran, I know from personal experience, was immensely useful.”

Whether Egypt aims to become an interlocutor is unclear, and perhaps even unlikely at this point. It is more likely that Egypt’s leaders want to set an agenda that’s independent from the U.S. and Europe. And just because Egypt is trying to regain some of the regional prominence that it enjoyed in the 1950s and 60s when it was a vocal leader of pan-Arab nationalism, doesn’t mean it’s going to be Iran’s new best friend either. “The new Middle East may end up being defined as it was in the past by that triangle of ancient states – Egypt, Turkey and Iran,” says Sick. “And I don’t think that they will necessarily become allies of each other. Rather they’re more likely to be rivals on many different issues.” (See TIME’s complete coverage in “The Middle East in Revolt.”)

One of those issues is a lingering suspicion of Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy and Tehran’s ambitions to “export” its Islamic revolution. Most of the region is dominated by Sunni Muslims; and religious conservatives sometimes view the Shi’a brand of Islam practiced by Iran’s majority as heretical. The rise of a Shi’ite government in Iraq has put other Arab states on edge, and an Egypt friendly to Iran is likely to come under a lot of pressure from some of its Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia. Regional analysts also say that Arabs have a tendency to exaggerate fears of Iranian influence. “The really active days of exporting the revolution ended in about 1982,” says Sick. But psychologically, it may still represent a sizable obstacle to normalization of Egyptian-Iranian relations.

At the same time, it’s worth considering who’s really in power in post-Mubarak Egypt. Egypt’s revolutionaries may indeed start flexing their foreign policy muscles against Mubarak’s legacy, but the generals who are temporarily in control of the country may have little interest in bending back the old policies. Mubarak’s number two man, the intensely anti-Iran intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has been removed from power. But in his place is Mourad Mwafi, the former head of Egyptian military intelligence, and the governor of North Sinai who held a hard-line on Gaza and Iran-backed Hamas. “I don’t know what his politics are, but I think he has a very healthy and realistic sense of the threats that Egypt still faces,” says one Western diplomat in Cairo. “I think he is highly skeptical of Iranian intentions – not only the nuclear stuff, but Hamas and Hezbollah and other malign influences in the region. So I think they haven’t lost their antennae on these issues.”

Indeed, Iran may be eager for a new ally in an international community where it remains highly unpopular. Ambassadors may even be exchanged. But Egypt is likely to proceed with caution. At the end of the day, the Western official adds, Egypt’s stance on Iran may not be so threatening after all: “There is no intention at this point, I’m told, to immediately move toward changing the nature of the relationship. It’s not there yet. I think the security services still have some concerns.”

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