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Napolitano urges EU action on religious freedom

Issue 'can't be ignored, president says after Alexandria bombing

04 January, 12:33
Napolitano urges EU action on religious freedom (ANSA) - Naples, January 4 - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday called for action by the European Union to protect religious freedom in countries like Egypt where 23 Coptic Christians were killed by a bomb on New Year's Day.

"I think it is right to ask that religious freedom be the subject of discussion and initiatives by the EU," the head of state said on a visit to Naples.

"Speaking of human rights in general, one cannot ignore this specific aspect, religious freedom, (which is) so significant and important".

Napolitano was echoing Foreign Minister Franco Frattini who on Monday said EU aid should be tied to respect for human rights in countries where Christian minorities are under attack.

Aid "should be reduced if not eliminated" for "those countries that do not collaborate" in protecting Christians, Frattini said.

"We have to move from monitoring to action," said the foreign minister, stressing that Italy could not remain "isolated" in the battle for Christians' rights around the world.

The EU "should work with those countries that collaborate and encourage them," he said.

Italy has been saying for months that more should be done to help embattled Christian communities around the world.

On December 22 Frattini blasted the EU for not doing more to combat the persecution of Christians in Iraq and other Middle Eastern Countries.

He said United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also worried about the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, who are leaving the region in increasing numbers, especially from Iraq, where they have been the victims of a series of bomb attacks.

''Frankly, it is a little sad that Europe isn't reacting on this issue as it should'', he said.

Italy is set to present a resolution to the United Nations on religious freedom which aims to stop this persecution and it has the backing of the EU, while several non-EU countries have expressed ''great interest''.

Pope Benedict XVI, who condemned the New Year's Day attack in Alexandria as a "cowardly attack against God," has said Christians are the religious group that suffer most persecution around the world.

Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and Nigeria are among the other countries where there have been anti-Christian campaigns and attacks.

More than 80 people were killed in bombings in the central Nigerian city of Jos on Christmas Eve, sparking clashes between Muslim and Christian youths.

Ethnic and religious violence in central Nigeria has left hundreds of people dead this year.

A bomb in a Baghdad church on October 31 left some 50 dead and more than 300 wounded.

It was followed by a string of attacks on Christian's homes in the Iraqi capital in which at least six people died.

Italy, through Frattini, told Egypt Tuesday it would continue joint action against terrorism.

photo: woman outside Alexandria church