CAIRO - An angry mob attacked a group of mainly Christian protesters demanding drastic measures to heal religious tension amid a spike in violence, leaving 65 people injured, officials said Sunday.
The Christian protesters have been holding their sit-in outside the state television building in Cairo for nearly a week following deadly Christian-Muslim clashes that left a church burned and 15 people dead.
More than 100 people rushed into the sit-in area, lobbing rocks and fire bombs from an overpass and charging toward the few hundred protesters sleeping in the area. Vehicles were set on fire and fires burned in the middle of the street.
Police and army troops fired in the air to disperse the crowd, and a tree was set on fire under the overpass.
The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the attackers had returned to avenge an earlier scuffle with the protesters who prevented a motorist from going through the area. A fight ensued, and the motorists fired blank rounds. The protesters chased the motorist and beat him badly.
Marc Mino, a protest organizer, told state TV the motorists had provoked the fight after refusing to be searched before entering the protest area, then provoking the protesters.
Medics said 65 were injured in Sunday's melee, two in critical condition. The security official said nearly 50 of the riot instigators were arrested.
A witness, Alfred Raouf, said armored vehicles later blocked traffic and pedestrians from going down from the bridge toward the protest area. The number of protesters at the sit-in shrunk, but those remaining insisted the strike would continue as their area was cordoned off by the security, Raouf said.
Religious clashes and a rising wave of crime have proved to be a major challenge for Egypt's military rulers in the days following the 18-day uprising that led to the Feb. 11 ouster of ex-President Hosni Mubarak.
Following the religious violence, the military vowed to respond firmly to instigators of violence and promised to respond to a number of the Christian demands, including reopening nearly 50 churches. But no trial date has been set for those responsible for the church burning or the violence last week.
Just hours before the Cairo violence, several suspected Islamic extremists bombed the tomb of a Muslim saint in the northern Sinai town of Sheik Zweid, said a security official, also declining to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information. The official said the eight or nine attackers fled the area. Muslim radicals have blown up at least five other Muslim shrines, because they believe the veneration of saints as a violation of Islam.