Police clash with protesters in central Cairo


CAIRO  — Egyptian security forces fired volleys of tear gas today to disperse stone-throwing protesters in central Cairo denouncing a series of arrests connected to a new law against street demonstrations.

Private TV stations showed riot police with shields, batons and helmets chasing protesters amid a thick cloud of gas. The demonstration was held near a Cairo court to condemn the detention of 24 activists arrested Tuesday while taking part in a protest that was not authorized by the authorities.

Egyptian activists are angered by a controversial protest law enacted Sunday that allows security agencies to bar protests, while also setting prison terms and high fines for violators.

Today, traffic came to a halt, shops closed and residents ran in panic in Cairo’s Abdeen neighborhood where the clashes took place.

Among today's protesters was Ahmed Maher, leader of the April 6 youth group that had a leading role in the 2011 uprising against longtime president Hosni Mubarak. He had come to hand himself in to prosecutors after they issued an arrest warrant on charges of inciting demonstrations against the new protest law.

Meanwhile, in the restive southern province of Minya, unknown gunmen shot dead a Christian, days after three people died in sectarian clashes, authorities said.

The assailants opened fire on the 50-year-old Christian man who hails from the village of Nazlet Obeid, which has recently witnessed clashes with residents from the neighboring village of Al-Hawarta, the provincial security chief Ossama Metwali said.

Two Muslims and one Christian were killed in Thursday’s violence. It erupted when Christian residents built a house that was suspected by Muslim neighbors to be a church.

Another outbreak of violence in the same province on Friday, in which 15 Christians were wounded, was instigated by rumors of a love affair between a local Christian man and a Muslim woman.

Christians compose nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s population and have suffered decades of discrimination under successive governments.

Rumors of churches being built or of love affairs between a Muslim and a Christian can easily spark sectarian clashes, particularly in the conservative south.

The violence comes as a 50-member panel amending the country’s 2012 Islamist-backed constitution is scheduled to vote on a final draft today.

Hours before members make the final vote, drafting panel head Amr Moussa told reporters, “We hope all the people vote ‘yes’ on the constitution ... It is the transition from disturbances to stability and from economic stagnation to development.”