Egypt recalls Vatican ambassador over Pope's remarks

Pope Benedict XVI. 10 Jan 2011 The Pope has previously voiced his solidarity with Egypt's minority Copts

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Egypt has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultation after Pope Benedict XVI urged the country to do more to protect its Christian minority.

In an address to ambassadors at the Vatican on Monday, the Pope cited recent attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq.

An Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said the remarks were "unacceptable".

A bomb attack on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve killed 23 people.

"Egypt asked its ambassador in the Vatican to come to Cairo for consultation after the Vatican's new statements that touch on Egyptian affairs, and which Egypt considers an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement.

There was no immediate official response from the Vatican. However, a Vatican source told AFP news agency that the recall did not constitute "a break in diplomatic relations".

In his address on Monday, the Pope condemned anti-Christian attacks in Egypt and Iraq, saying they showed "the urgent need for governments of the region to adopt... effective measures for the protection of religious minorities".

He also called on Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws, which can carry a death sentence for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Coptic Christmas eve Mass in Cairo. 6 Jan 2011 Egypt tightened security around Coptic churches following the bomb attack

It was not the first time the Pope had spoken out over the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East.

In his traditional Christmas Day message - the Urbi et Orbi - he called for political leaders in the region to show solidarity with Christians.

And a day after the attack on the Coptic church in Alexandria, he appealed for the "concrete and constant engagement of leaders of nations" in what he called a "difficult mission".

On Sunday in an address in St Peter's Square, Rome, the Pope voiced solidarity with Egypt's Copts, saying: "I salute the Coptic faithful present here to whom I renew my expression of closeness."

Egypt's Coptic Christian minority makes up between 7% and 14% of Egypt's 80 million people.

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