CAIRO // Clashes between Christian protesters and the military have killed four protesters and two soldiers, Egyptian security and hospital officials said last night.
Forty people were injured in the protests yesterday outside the state television building along the Nile.
Witnesses said some of the protesters may have snatched weapons from the soldiers and turned them on the military.
The protesters also pelted the soldiers with rocks and bottles.
The clashes spread to nearby Tahrir Square and the area around it. The troubles in the city centre caused massive traffic jams.
Gunshots rang out at the scene outside the state television building, where lines of riot police with shields tried to hold back hundreds of Christian protesters chanting "This is our country".
Thick black smoke filled the air from the burning vehicles. Security forces eventually fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
State television said 30 soldiers were injured.
Thugs with sticks chased the Christian protesters from the site, banging metal street signs to scare them off.
One soldier collapsed in tears as ambulances rushed to the scene to take away the injured.
Television footage of the riots showed some of the Coptic protesters attacking a soldier, while a priest tried to protect him. The trouble began when thousands of Coptic Christians protesting against the latest attack on a church in southern Egypt came under attack as they chanted denunciations of Egypt's military rulers, whom they accuse of leniency in dealing with anti-Christian attacks.
"The people want to topple the field marshal," the protesters yelled, referring to the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.
The rally began in the Shubra district of northern Cairo, then headed to the state television building overlooking the Nile where men in plain clothes attacked the Christian protesters.
It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.
Egypt's Coptic Christian minority makes up about 10 per cent of the country's population of more than 80 million people.
As Egypt undergoes a chaotic power transition and security vacuum after this year's uprising, Christians are particularly worried about the increasing show of power by the ultraconservative Islamists.
"Our protest is peaceful and I don't know why they attack us," said Rami Kamel, a protest leader.
In the past weeks, riots have broken out at two churches in southern Egypt, prompted by Muslim crowds angry over church construction.
One riot broke out near the city of Aswan, even after church officials agreed to a demand by local ultraconservative Muslims, called Salafis, that a cross and bells be removed from the building.
Aswan's governor, General Mustafa Kamel Al Sayyed, further raised tensions by telling the media that the church was being built on the site of a guesthouse, suggesting it was illegal.