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Egypt’s military denies any responsibility in deaths of 17 Christians

Egypt’s Army has denied shooting or running over mostly Christian protesters at a demonstration Sunday, laying the blame on protesters for the violence that killed as many as two dozen people.

The account laid out today by two generals on the military council currently ruling Egypt sharply contradicts the eyewitness accounts and videos that show Army soldiers driving vehicles into an unarmed crowd, crushing and killing people, and shooting at the demonstrators. The military’s refusal to be held accountable for its actions inflamed anger and heightened fear among many Egyptians that the military council has replaced one dictatorship with another.

“How is this different than Mubarak?” asked Peter, a Christian who was present during the crackdown. “They kill us, and lie and say we attacked them. This is not democracy. This is not freedom. There is no justice.”

The generals said it was not the armed forces who killed the protesters, and they were still investigating who did.

“Who killed them? That’s a question we’re still trying to answer,” Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy said at a press conference. Gen. Adel Emara said that soldiers could not have shot protesters, because they did not have live ammunition, and if they had, “the results would have been catastrophic.”

The generals accused armed and violent Christian protesters of attacking soldiers, and showed video clips that they said support their claim. Showing one clip of an Army armored vehicle careening through a crowd, Gen. Emara said the driver was trying to avoid hitting protesters, and said the driver was suffering from a state of panic after being attacked.

He showed another clip of a bloodied man on a stretcher as evidence of violent protester attacks, but it was not apparent that the man was a soldier or member of the police force. Other videos showed a protester throwing a rock into an Army vehicle, and protesters hitting and throwing stones at vehicles. The generals accused protesters of coming with swords, gas canisters, and fire bombs.

The generals once again invoked conspiracies and plots by “enemies of the nation” to explain the violence, without going into detail.

Christian protesters who were present that night say the video clips shown at the press conference depict what happened after soldiers opened fire and attacked the crowd, as youths fought back. Witnesses say the demonstration, which was protesting the recent attack on a church in southern Egypt, was peaceful when it was attacked.

The generals’ account gives no answer for the 17 Christian protesters killed that night. Seen in a hospital morgue, many of the bodies were mangled, appearing to have been crushed by vehicles. Others bore gunshot wounds.

Wounded protesters said they were shot at or run over by Army soldiers. Outside the morgue, a priest who gave his name as Dawoud said he saw an Army armored vehicle run over a young man and crush his head.

“I saw them run over five people,” said the priest, who was carrying partial remains of the young man. “I saw two die.”

The generals also said soldiers were killed in the violence, but refused to release their names or say how many, so as not to affect troop morale. Many Christians say they suspect that no soldiers were actually killed.

Authorities have arrested 28 people in connection with Sunday’s events, and the military has said those charged will receive military trials.

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