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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005, 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK
Three killed in Egypt church riot
Protesters outside St George's church in Alexandria, Egypt
Protesters threw stones at the Coptic church and police officers
Three people have died during a riot outside a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, after a protest against a play accused of offending Islam.

Police used sticks and tear gas to hold back a crowd of some 5,000 protesters who marched on St George's church.

Dozens of people were injured in the crush. One man who died was trampled and had inhaled tear gas, police said.

On Wednesday, a Muslim man stabbed a nun in protest at the sale of a DVD of the play, staged at the church in 2003.

The demonstration was the latest in a series of incidents at the church related to the performance of the play.

Entitled I Once Was Blind But Now I See, the drama tells the story of a poor young Copt who is drawn to Islamist militants who then try to kill him.

'Not insulting'

Coptic Christian leaders have said the play depicts the dangers of extremism, not of Islam.

"Copts would never tolerate anyone insulting Islam," Coptic Bishop Armia is quoted by Egypt's official Mena news agency as saying.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry described the protesters as "fanatic elements" who "escalated a negative reaction to a play", according to the Associated Press new agency.

A Coptic nun stabbed at St George's Church, Alexandria, on 19 October
A nun was stabbed at the church by a young Muslim on Wednesday

The ministry said the demonstrators gathered near the church in the Mediterranean port city after Friday noon prayers at local mosques.

Stones were thrown at the church and police officers, injuring 20, and cars were set alight before police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Dozens of people were arrested.

Relations between Muslims and the Coptic minority - which makes up 5%-10% of Egypt's population - are generally calm, although tensions sometimes flare.

Copts remained the majority in Egypt for centuries after the 7th Century conquest of the country by Muslim armies.

Nowadays, they complain of discrimination in the workplace, restrictions on church construction and periodic fears that Christians are being forced to convert by Islamic extremists.

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