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Egypt's Churches Pull Out of Constitution Panel

CAIRO (AFP) -- Egypt's churches have pulled out of a panel dominated by Islamists that is writing the country's post-revolt constitution, state television announced on Saturday.

"Egypt's three churches have withdrawn from the constitutional assembly," state television quoted Bishop Pachomious -- the interim head of the Christian Coptic Orthodox church -- as saying.

The country's three churches -- the Coptic Orthodox church, the Coptic Catholic church and the Anglican church -- were represented by four people on the 100-member panel.

The Coptic Orthodox church's new pope, Tawadros II, said after his election last week that he would reject a constitution if it imposed a religious state in the Muslim-majority country.

"A constitution that hints at imposing a religious state in Egypt is absolutely rejected," he told journalists a day after he was chosen pope.

The panel, formed in June, is dominated by Islamists and includes politicians and public figures.

The new constitution is to replace the 1971 charter suspended by the military which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February last year.

But a draft of the document published last month was heavily criticised by local and international rights groups as failing to protect key rights.

President Mohamed Morsi has pledged to allow the Christians equal rights, but the once banned Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi belongs has repeatedly said it wants to gradually impose an Islamic state.

Copts, the Middle East's largest Christian community, suffered an increase in attacks that killed dozens of Christians after the overthrow of Mubarak, and many opposed Morsi's election in June.

On October 23, a court meant to rule on the fate of the Islamist-dominated constitutional panel instead referred the case to a superior court which has already expressed its opposition to the draft charter.


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