Hundreds gather in Los Angeles to protest Coptic deaths in Egypt

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Hundreds of Coptic Christians from Egypt marched Sunday in a demonstration that was part political rally, part memorial for their brethren killed in violent clashes last week.

The protesters want the Obama administration to put more pressure on the military leaders of Egypt to guarantee protection for millions of Christians that make up that country’s biggest minority group.

The Copts hoisted crosses and fake coffins representing the dead as they marched around the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue.

Videos posted to the web last week showed Egyptian military vehicles plowing through groups of protesters. Official counts put the death toll at 26. At least 21 of those killed were Christians.

“Innocent blood cannot be shed,” said Robert Beshai, a veterinarian who attended the Sunday protest. “We're giving billions of dollars to Egypt in military aid. This should be conditional based on their meeting specific standards of human rights.”

Coptic religious leaders called early last week for three days of fasting in solidarity with the Copts in Egypt. They don't eat before going to liturgy in the afternoon, and then keep to a vegetarian diet for the remainder of the day.

Father Joseph Boules, a clergyman at St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church, said the Christian community viewed the Arab Spring protests with trepidation.

They feared the power vacuum left by Hosni Mubarak would further inflame violence against Christians in the country, Boules said.

“We knew the country was not stable and the Copts have been sustaining blow after blow for tens of years,” Boules said. “Moderate muslims are saying this is not acceptable.”

Father Moses Samuel Samaan was among the Coptic Orthodox leaders who organized Sunday’s protest. He said Copts abroad are calling for basic protections for their minority status in Egypt.

“We hope the Egyptian government takes a more active role in protecting all of its citizens,” Samaan said. “As Christians we have no hope for anything other than peace and tolerance, ability to build churches, ability to worship freely.”

Mae Ryan contributed to this story.

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