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Protests at Cairo riot funerals

Tens of thousands of Egyptians chanted against the ruling military council during a massive funeral procession of 17 Christian protesters killed in a Cairo protest.

Mourners packed the Coptic Christian Cathedral in Cairo overnight, filling hallways and corridors as funeral prayers were led by Pope Shenouda III.

Chants of "down with the military junta" interrupted the prayers, as many accuse the military of bearing primary responsibility for the violence which led to the deaths of 26 people on Sunday. More than 500 were injured.

The protesters who were killed were marching towards Cairo's television headquarters. Forensic examinations showed that many deaths were caused by armoured vehicles that ran over protesters or by gunshots.

Egyptian prime minister Essam Sharaf warned in a televised address that the riots were another setback on the country's already fraught transition to civilian rule after three decades of overthrown leader Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian government. "These events have taken us back several steps," Mr Sharaf said.

He blamed foreign meddling for the troubles, claiming it was part of a "dirty conspiracy".

Similar explanations for the troubles in Egypt are often heard from the military rulers who took power from Mubarak, perhaps an attempt to deflect accusations that they are bungling the management of the country.

"Instead of moving forward to build a modern state on democratic principles, we are back to seeking stability and searching for hidden hands - domestic and foreign - that meddle with the country's security and safety," he said.

The clashes on Sunday night raged over a large section of central Cairo and drew in Christians, Muslims and security forces. They began when about 1,000 Christian protesters tried to stage a sit-in outside the state television building along the Nile in central Cairo.

Most of those killed were Coptic Christians, although officials said at least three soldiers were among the dead. Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's 85 million people, blame the ruling military council for being too lenient on those behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks since Mubarak's removal.

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