Monday, April 24, 2006

Copts march for peace and awareness in Melbourne

I'll repost the article:

"COPTS have been silent for 1400 years," the banner outside St Paul's Cathedral claimed.

Yesterday Melbourne's Copts broke that silence emphatically, more than 2000 marching from the cathedral to Parliament to protest against persecution in Egypt.

More than a fifth of Melbourne's 10,000 Copts (Egyptian Christians) joined the march, stopping at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian consulate to present petitions. It was part of worldwide protests to put pressure on the Egyptian Government to halt attacks on churches by Islamic fanatics, and to stop the cover-ups.

Sydney's Copts will march on Thursday.

"We can't put up with this persecution any more," Bishop Suriel, Melbourne's Coptic bishop, told the marchers.

"We are calling on the Australian Government to say to the Egyptian Government, 'enough is enough'."

On Good Friday, four Coptic churches in Alexandria were attacked with swords, and one man was killed. When one congregation tried to chase the attackers, a policeman stopped them at gunpoint.

Bishop Suriel told The Age that the Egyptian Government claimed it was a madman working alone, but it was hard to see how he could attack four churches in different places at once.

Liz Attia, a spokeswoman for the Coptic community, said Copts, 10 per cent of Egypt's population, faced constant discrimination and fear of violence.

The march, led by white-robed clergy, was an unusual protest, with singing and prayers in different languages rather than slogans.

Bob Thomas, the head of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, also spoke, calling on the Australian Government to ask the Egyptian Government to make freedom of religion available to all.

Egyptian consul-general Fatma Glal told the marchers she understood their grievances. "What hurts you hurts us all, and the Government is doing all it can," she said.

By Barney Zwartz

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