Peaceful Christian demonstrators attacked by thugs with rifles, sticks and swords, according to Catholic Church spokesman

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt has blamed the army and police for the deaths of 25 people – most of them Copts – in the worst spate of violence since the downfall of Mubarak.

The Church claimed that the army and police “used” a mob of street fighters armed with rifles, sticks, stones and swords who it says carried out an unprovoked attack on thousands of demonstrators in Cairo late yesterday.

The protesters, made up of Muslims as well as Christians, marched to Egypt’s state television headquarters, calling for greater action to protect Christians in Egypt after a spate of attacks against them.

In yesterday’s violence in central Cairo, 25 people were killed – 17 of them Coptic Christians – and more than 200 others were injured.

In a statement to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Fr Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, said: “We are accusing the army and the police who used vagabonds, a rabble force of street fighters, to attack the demonstrators.”

“They were armed with swords, sticks and stones – some of them had rifles it seems.

“They did not have to use force. It was a peaceful demonstration.”

Fr Greiche described the “anger and hurt” after the deaths of the 25 – most of them in their 20s and 30s.

“Today [Monday], people are very angry about what happened last night. The army and the police are confronting the Copts. This is the problem. It is not a Christian/Muslim problem any more.”

He said that under Mubarak it was easier to demonstrate but the new regime under Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was opposed to such forms of freedom of speech.

“People – not just Christians but many Muslims too – are frightened for the future of our country.”

Fr Greiche went on to accuse the government of being complicit in arson attacks on churches, giving tacit approval to Islamists to carry out the attacks.

Sparking yesterday’s violence was alleged government inaction following last month’s arson attack on a re-built church in Marinab, a village in southern Egypt’s Aswan province.

Demonstrators called for the removal of the governor of Aswan who they claim gave permission for the construction work before siding with extremists against the church.

Fr Greiche said: “The governor gave the green light for the fundamentalists to burn the church near Aswan.

“It’s the fourth time in recent months that a church has been burnt in this way by Islamists.”

He added that the Church was calling for the governor of Aswan to be dismissed and that a law be passed making it easier for churches to be built.

He said that since the fall of Mubarak in February, Islamists across Egypt formerly repressed by the president, were now very active, causing great anxiety to many Muslims as well as Christians.

Fr Greiche said: “Since the fall of Mubarak, the fundamentalists have developed a very loud voice. The government leaves them to do whatever they want.”

He accused fundamentalists of using Facebook and other social media to call for Christians to emigrate to the West, saying Islamists were determined to implement Islamic Sharia law.