You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Sectarian unrest flares anew in southern Egypt

LUXOR, Egypt — Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Muslim protesters trying to storm a Coptic Christian church in southern Egypt on Friday, after a word spread that a Christian man sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl.

Witnesses in Marashda village in the province of Qena said several shops and cars owned by Coptic Christians were torched overnight Thursday after Muslim villagers accused a merchant in his 60s of molesting the girl.

Continue reading below

Violence flared again after Friday prayers, with witnesses saying protesters surrounded the village’s central Abu Fam church, hurling stones and trying to storm it. Some climbed the church walls and destroyed a cross atop it. Police fired tear gas to scatter the crowd.

General Salah Mazid, the Qena security director, was quoted in state media as saying that police are investigating the accusations against the merchant, who turned himself in at a police station.

A resident who lives next to the church blamed extremist Islamists for spreading news of the accusations in order to enrage crowds and incite an attack on the church.

‘‘They are terrorizing us. They try to find a reason to attack us,’’ said the resident, asking not to be named for fear of retribution. ‘‘In no time, this village turned to a ball of fire.’’

‘‘We know those behind it,’’ he said, referring to the Group for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, an organization which he said over the past two months has been visiting cafes and ordering people not to smoke. They force Muslims to go to the mosque to pray, he added.

The villages of Qena are among the poorest in Egypt. They also have a significant Coptic Christian population.

Flare-ups of violence among Egypt’s Christians and Muslims have become more frequent in the two years since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising, an event that also left the country’s security weakened.

‘‘We want law enforcement, not mass punishment of all Christians for an individual mistake,’’ said Coptic activist Hana Hasseb. ‘‘What is the guilt of all of those whose stores were set ablaze?’’

Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.