Egypt's Sisi pledges to build new churches after attack
Egypt's president has pledged to facilitate the construction of new churches in the wake of a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in central Egypt, local media has reported.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made the promise in an address to a youth forum in the resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh on Sunday after Islamic State gunmen killed seven Christians in an attack on pilgrims travelling to a remote desert monastery.
"The state is concerned with building a church in all new settlements and even old ones. [The Christians] have the right to worship just like everyone else," Sisi said, alluding to a 2016 law that, in theory, regulates the construction of churches and mosques.
"If we had other religions such as Jews we would build them places of worship… because it is the right of the citizen to worship in whatever way he wants - or even to not worship. This is a matter we do not interfere with," he added.
The comments came as authorities rush to quell anger from Christians, who have been targeted in a string of extremist attacks that have killed over 100 members of their community since 2011.
Christian mourners booed at the funeral of the victims, when a bishop thanked authorities for pledging to punish the militants behind the attack.
Despite recent legislation to free up the construction of churches, local authorities still often refuse to give building permits for new churches, fearing protests by Muslim conservatives.
That has prompted Christians to illegally build churches or set up pray halls in other buildings. In contrast, there are few restrictions to building mosques.
Also on Sunday, Egyptian police said they killed 19 militants linked to the attack in Minya province.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 100 million people and have long complained of discrimination.
They have accused police of negligence after this and other attacks, and say authorities often go easy on Muslim assailants after outbreaks of sectarian violence.
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