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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Egyptian court orders clashes retrial
Egyptian Christians say they will demand compensation
The Supreme Court in Egypt has ordered a retrial in the case of nearly 100 Muslims and Christians accused of being involved in bloody inter-religious clashes over a year ago.

Twenty Christians and one Muslim were killed after violence broke out in the town of el-Kosheh, 440 kilometres (275 miles) south of Cairo, following a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian.

Out of 96 people originally charged in connection with the worst sectarian fighting in Egypt for decades, only four - all Muslims - were jailed, although none for murder.

The head of the Orthodox Coptic Church in Egypt, Pope Shenouda III (r), and the top Muslim cleric in Egypt, Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi
Egyptian Coptic Christians say they are discriminated against in everyday life
The initial verdict had angered Egypt's Coptic Christian community, who said it served as a green light for Muslims to kill them.

The court did not say why it was reversing the earlier ruling.

The decision was welcomed by the country's Christian leaders.

"We think justice can now prevail," Coptic Christian Bishop Wissa told the Associated Press news agency.

"There were killers and there were victims and we only want to know who was who," he added.

Quarrel over money

The violence broke out on 31 December, 1999, after a row over money between a shop-owner and a customer.

Fighting spread to the nearby village of Dar el-Salam, where the Christians and Muslim were killed in a massacre on 2 January, 2000.

We (Copts) think it restores trust in the Egyptian justice system and law

Coptic lawyer Mamduh Nakhla
Christian clerics say Egyptian police did nothing to prevent Muslim gangs who went on the rampage.

The judge in the first trial, Mohammed Affifi, said it was not possible to identify which defendants had been responsible for which actions.

He also accused three Coptic priests of failing to stop the quarrel which sparked the trouble.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Egypt says there is speculation Judge Affifi opted for a lenient verdict to avoid inflaming sectarian tensions.

A Coptic lawyer involved in the case, Mamduh Nakhla, welcomed the decision to overrule the lower court's verdict.

Mr Nakhla told the French news agency AFP: "We (Copts) think it restores trust in the Egyptian justice system and law...The retrial will give us an opportunity to submit new evidence against the accused. Also we can demand compensation."

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Cairo
Residents shot at each other from neighbouring rooftops
See also:

04 Jan 00 | Middle East
Funerals for victims of Egypt clashes
08 Jan 00 | Middle East
More arrests after Egypt clashes
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