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The death toll from weekend clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Egyptian capital Cairo has risen to 15, the National Council for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

“There are 15 dead,” NCHR member Diaa Rashwan told reporters.

The clashes in the working class neighbourhood of Imbaba, in northwestern Cairo, on Saturday also left more than 200 injured.

Copts account for up to 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people. They complain of discrimination, and have been the targets of fairly regular sectarian attacks.

Claims that Christian women who converted to Islam were kidnapped and held in churches or monasteries have soured relations between the two communities for months.

The violence between ultraconservative Muslim Salafists, Coptic Christians and others first erupted when Islamists marched to a church in Imbaba, where they believed that a young woman was being held hostage, possibly in an effort to get her to revoke a conversion to Islam.

The woman at the centre of the storm, Abeer Fakhry, later handed herself in to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been in control of the country since former president Hosny Mubarak stepped down in February.

Egypt’s Daily News reported that Fakhry posted an online video confirming she had been held in the Imbaba church against her will for converting to Islam.

The Egyptian military on Tuesday began work on restoration of Imbaba’s burnt-out church, according to witnesses.

More than 200 people have been arrested since the unrest erupted, with an additional 21 detained on Wednesday, according to state media.

Those previously detained for their involvement in the clashes were referred to military courts, despite calls by rights groups to try them in civilian criminal courts.

Activists have called for a million-person protest on Friday in Tahrir Square to call for a show of unity between all Egyptians.

Coptic Christians make up between 10 to 15 per cent of the country’s population, which is predominantly Muslim. DPA, AFP

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