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Europe alarmed over Egypt clashes - The Daily Star 11/10/2011
LUXEMBOURG: European leaders expressed alarm Monday over sectarian clashes overnight in Egypt that killed 24 people, mainly Coptic Christians, and urged post-revolution authorities to uphold religious freedom.
“I am very concerned, very alarmed about the clashes,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said during talks with his 26 European Union counterparts, where the events in Cairo suddenly took center-stage.
“It is very important that the Egyptian authorities reaffirm the freedom of worship,” he said after the clashes that broke out during a Coptic protest against a recent attack on a church in the southern city of Aswan.
“The ability to worship in peace is a vital component of any free and democratic society.”
As the government in Cairo prepared for crisis talks, Germany said it too was “very worried.”
“We can only call on the Egyptian government to get to the bottom of these incidents as soon as possible and bring those responsible to justice,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists.
“We encourage the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to foster an atmosphere of religious tolerance,” he added.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on all sides to exercise restraint and moderation, while his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini urged EU “condemnation of the very serious violence against Christians, the Egyptian Copts,” who he said were fleeing in “exodus.”
Noting “an escalation” in violence against the country’s Christians, Frattini said, “We hope the response of the Egyptian authorities will be more energetic than under [former president Hosni] Mubarak, which was insufficient.”
“There must be an end to this violence against Christian communities,” he added.
At least 40 people were arrested in central Cairo when a Copt demonstration led to deadly clashes that also left more than 200 people wounded.
It was not immediately clear how many of those detained were Muslim or Christian. Egypt’s ruling military council, which took power when Mubarak was ousted in a popular revolt in February, ordered a probe into the clashes.
The events in Egypt were “extremely worrying,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Ashton urged Egypt to move toward elections “with a desire to see all people part of those elections and to protect the people, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever belief and faith they have.”
She told journalists that during her past visits to Cairo she had “made it perfectly clear that protecting all people is essential.”
Deep political changes such as Egypt’s almost always triggered “difficult moments,” said Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Porta.
“Those of us who support this change must ensure that religious freedom is ensured. This region and this country are decisive to all of Europe,” he said.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero “deeply regrets” the clashes, his office said in a statement.
“Spain calls for overcoming the differences between communities so that the spirit of the ‘Arab Spring’ may be translated very soon into a peaceful and democratic future together,” it said.
“The building of a democratic regime is the universal aspiration of all Egyptians, independent of their origin and religious belief. To that end, it is essential that the authorities pursue their efforts to guarantee Coptic citizens’ their safety and the exercise of their rights.”