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Religious Violence Spreads in Egypt

January 2, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Religious tensions in southern Egypt turned deadly Sunday, the third day of riots and looting sparked by a dispute between a Muslim street vendor and a Christian shop owner.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said two people died in the village of el-Kusheh, 275 miles south of Cairo. But a local bishop said 16 people died, and that the violence spread to two nearby villages.

Security forces have sealed off el-Kusheh, Dar el-Salam and Awlad Toq West and were trying to stop people from shooting, looting and burning shops, Bishop Wissa, whose diocese includes the villages, said Sunday night by telephone from his home in another nearby village, el-Balyana.

Wissa listed names of 16 people he said died in the rioting, including his daughter Samiya. Fifty houses, shops and warehouses, along with a church building, were burned in Awlad Toq West, according to Wissa.

El-Kusheh residents were exchanging gunfire from rooftops of their homes, the Interior Ministry said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press late Sunday. Security forces intervened and the situation was under control, it said.

El-Kusheh has been blocked off nearly round-the-clock since Friday. The ministry didn’t mention the other two villages cited by Wissa, but said Muslim and Christian religious leaders and local officials were trying to contain the situation.

Wissa said the trouble spread to Dar el-Salam after Sunday church services, when ``barbaric people carrying rifles went on a rampage and started firing at Christian shops and Christian houses.″

Witnesses in Dar el-Salam, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said protesters smashed and burned scores of Christian-owned shops and offices. They said police opened fire to disperse the protesters, some of whom fired back, and that more forces were called to restore order.

Demonstrators were protesting what they claimed were Christian attacks against Muslims, the witnesses said. Most Christians, who are a minority in the town, stayed inside their homes, they said.

The trouble began Wednesday in el-Kusheh, when Fayez Awad, a Muslim street vendor, tried to purchase on credit some textiles from Rashad Fahim Mansour, a Christian shop owner. Mansour allegedly refused and insulted Awad.

According to authorities, Awad returned Friday with one or two of his brothers. When Mansour allegedly refused to apologize for insulting him, the men started shooting, injuring three farmers passing by on donkeys.

Gamal Makawi, el-Kusheh’s chief administrator, and police officers said at least 10 people were wounded Sunday in el-Kusheh.

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