CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's public prosecutor said it had referred 48 Muslims and Christians to criminal court on Saturday for their roles in sectarian violence that led to the burning of a church in the Cairo district of Imbaba on May 7.

The clashes, in which 12 people were killed and 52 wounded, were sparked by rumors that Christians had abducted a woman, Abeer Fakhry, who had converted to Islam.

Among the charges against the 48 were incitement to sectarian violence, premeditated murder, terrorism and arson, the prosecutor said.

Such clashes have posed a challenge for Egypt's new military rulers, under pressure to impose security and revive the ailing economy while seeking to avoid the tough security tactics against Islamists used by ex-President Hosni Mubarak.

Prosecutor's office spokesman Adel Said said that before the clashes a number of Muslims had gathered outside a mosque in Imbaba to incite people to search buildings near a church to find the woman.

As the crowd moved to the church, rumors spread among Christians in the neighborhood that the crowd was planning to attack the church. They formed groups to protect the church, and some fired guns at the crowd of Muslims, the spokesman said.

Some Muslims were also carrying weapons, and they responded with gunfire of their own. Another rumor that a Muslim cleric had been killed further provoked a group of Muslims to attack and set the church ablaze, he added.

The prosecutor said 22 of those referred to criminal court were in custody and orders had been sent out for the other 26 to be arrested. No date has yet been set for the first hearing.

Interfaith relationships often cause tension in Egypt, where Christians make up about 10 percent of its 80 million people.

(Writing by Patrick Werr; editing by Andrew Roche)

Source: Reuters US Online Report World News