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Thousands march to mark killing of Egypt Copts

Tuesday - 10/9/2012, 3:47pm  ET

By SARAH EL DEEB
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) - Several thousand Egyptians marched for miles through Cairo on Tuesday, marking the year anniversary of a military crackdown on Christian protesters that killed 26 people and demanding retribution against army leaders they hold responsible for the deaths.

Muslim clerics, Christian priests, activists and liberal former lawmakers joined the procession, filling large boulevards to memorialize the "Maspero massacre," referring to the name of the state TV building overlooking the Nile River where the violence took place a year ago.

The protest last year was led by hundreds of Christians angered over a string of attacks on churches and denouncing the military _ which ruled the country at the time _ for failing to protect them. Soldiers attacked the crowd, with military vehicles running over some protesters, while others were killed by gunshots. Almost all the dead were Christians.

It was some of the worst state-perpetrated and sectarian violence during the 17-months of military rule that followed the toppling of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. For many Egyptians, the scenes of bloodshed altered their views of the generals who had taken power, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

For many in Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, the violence marked a turning point, ending their faith that the state would protect them in the face of increasingly assertive Islamic hardliners. Christian worries have only grown since Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, came to power in late June, ending military rule.

On Tuesday evening, the crowd marched about six kilometers (four miles) to the TV building, retracing the route the march a year ago took. "The people want the execution of the field marshal," many chanted, referring to Tantawi. Others carried a banner reading, "Put them on trial," with pictures of Tantawi and other members of the military council he headed.

Tears and ululations were common along the long march, and young Muslim and Christian women held a vigil outside the TV building to remember those killed.

In a funeral-style procession, the crowd carried a replica of a sun boat _ the curved boat that the ancient pharaohs would have buried with them to take them into the afterlife _ with images of those killed in the crackdown. There was a large flag of Mina Daniel, a prominent young Christian activist who was among those who died. Others waved Egyptian flags with the Muslim crescent and Christian cross in a show of unity.

"The case won't die, and blood won't be forgotten no matter how much time passes," Mary Daniel, Mina's sister, told The Associated Press.

One marcher, Emile Saad, said the demonstration aimed to pressure the government to prosecute those responsible for the deaths. "We want retribution," said the 52-year-old Saad, who participated in the protest a year ago and recalled the bullets whizzing by him.

Outside the TV building, priests chanted songs to remember the dead and pray for Egypt to be saved. Reflecting their growing disappointment, and fear of an Islamist-ruled Egypt, they chanted with the crowd as a chorus: "Our free sons in the revolution humiliated the corrupt leader and turned him into a prisoner. But their brothers fooled them and stole the revolution from the squares. In the name of the law, they misled the people and chose a ruler for the millions. But the revolution continues and will continue to say no."

Former lawmaker Ziad el-Oleimi said the blood of those killed has "not dried yet." In a snub to Morsi, el-Oleimi said it was because of the many killed that Egypt got rid of Mubarak and elected a new president. He urged Morsi to live up to his promise to bring to trial all those responsible for the killing of Egyptians.

He said that Morsi "owes every martyr ... all those who died so that our country becomes free and democratic."

Addressing the crowd, el-Oleimi said: "You are the titan that scares every ruler. ...You are the titan that will bring anyone down if they don't bring justice for the martyrs."

An Egyptian rights group on Tuesday criticized the country's new leadership for failing to prosecute those behind the violence.

"A whole year later, the real perpetrators who gave the orders to commit these crimes haven't been brought to justice," the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said.

A military court convicted three soldiers of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced them to two years in prison, a punishment the group described as "flimsy." It said authorities shelved an investigation into the shooting of 11 other protesters.

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