The Coptic Church in Egypt on Monday urged followers to fast and pray for three days to mourn Christians killed in clashes with Muslims and security forces last night. According to security sources, the death toll rose to 26 from 24 after two people died of their wounds.
The church issued the mourning statement Monday after its spiritual leader, Pope Shenouda III, met with 70 bishops. The 3-day mourning period is to begin on Tuesday, the AP reported.
At Monday noon, security officials said clashes between Christian protesters and Egyptian security forces resumed, with hundreds pelting the police with rocks outside a central Cairo hospital. Monday's clashes took place outside the hospital where bodies of Christian victims were kept.
On his part, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the violence, which also left 272 wounded, was part of a "dirty conspiracy". He urged 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."