Egypt closes Great Pyramid after rumours of rituals
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Last Updated: Friday, November 11, 2011, 19:06
  
Cairo: Egypt's antiquities authority closed the largest of the Giza pyramids on Friday following rumours that groups would try to hold spiritual ceremonies on the site at 11:11 on November 11, 2011.

The authority's head Mustafa Amin said in a statement on Friday that the pyramid of Khufu, also known as Cheops, would be closed to visitors until Saturday morning for "necessary maintenance".

The closure follows a string of unconfirmed reports in local media that unidentified groups would try to hold "Jewish" or "Masonic" rites on the site to take advantage of mysterious powers coming from the pyramid on the rare date.

Amin called all reports of planned ceremonies at the site "completely lacking in truth".

The complex's director, Ali al-Asfar, said on Friday that an Egyptian company requested permission last month to hold an event called "hug the pyramid", in which 120 people would join hands around the ancient burial structure.

The authority declined the request a week ago, al-Asfar said, but that did not stop concerned Egyptians from starting internet campaigns to prevent the event from taking place.

"It has been a big cause now on Facebook and Twitter for many people to write about," al-Asfar said.

The closure was unrelated to the rumours, he said, adding that the pyramid needed maintenance after the large number of visitors during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday last week.

The rest of the complex, which includes two other large pyramids, numerous tombs and the Sphinx, remained open.

Speaking by phone from the pyramids after 11:11 had passed, al-Asfar said he'd seen nothing out of the ordinary.

"Everything is normal," he said. "The only thing different is the closure of the Khufu pyramid."

Khufu is credited with building the Giza complex's largest pyramid, now one of Egypt's biggest tourist attractions. Khufu founded the 4th Dynasty around 2680 BC and ruled Egypt for 23 years. The United Nations says 3,500 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown. Authorities say more than 1,100 soldiers and police have been killed in the unrest, which they blame on "terrorists" and Islamist militants.

Syria has barred most foreign media, making it difficult to verify accounts from activists and officials.

Among the 56 killed on Thursday were 16 protesters shot dead by soldiers in Homs, 140 km (90 miles) north of Damascus, where troops have tried to crush protests as well as an armed insurgency, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"We are going to heaven, martyrs in the millions," sang a crowd at a rally in the town of Helfaya near Hama, according to a YouTube video. The song has become a popular chant in other Arab countries during Arab Spring revolts.

Fourteen others were killed in house-to-house raids and in protests in Damascus suburbs, the southern province of Deraa and the north western province of Idlib near Turkey.

Twenty six soldiers were killed in ambushes, activists said, 25 near Maarat al-Numaan, a town 70 km south of Aleppo, and in the nearby city of Khan Sheikhoun, said the British-based Observatory, headed by dissident Rami Abdelrahman. Another soldier was killed in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.

Both towns are in Idlib, where an increasing number of army deserters and insurgents are taking refuge, helped by the region's rugged terrain and proximity to Turkey, activists say.

An activist in the eastern Damascus suburb of Harasta, who gave his name as Assem, said three deserters were killed after they abandoned military units which fired live ammunition at a demonstration of 1,500-2,000 people in the al-Zar neighbourhood.

"Security police could not put down the demonstration. The eight soldiers defected when Republican Guards and the Fourth Armoured Division were sent in," he said.

A YouTube video distributed by other activists purportedly showed several soldiers in Harasta wearing helmets and ammunition vests running for cover behind a vegetable stall amid the crackle of automatic gun fire.

In Homs, activists said the number of tanks in the city had increased and new roadblocks were set up, especially around Bayada and Bab Sbaa, districts that have seen regular protests against Assad.

Authorities said on Wednesday that life had returned to normal in the city after it was cleansed of "terrorists" who have been attacking civilians and troops.

"Arrests are non-stop. If the army spots any group of youths anywhere they arrest them," said Ahmad, an activist who only gave his first name.

Bureau Report


First Published: Friday, November 11, 2011, 18:46


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