Obama Calls for Religious Tolerance After Deadly Egyptian Clashes

The White House is speaking out against the riots in Egypt that have left at least 26 dead and hundreds of others wounded, most of whom are reportedly Coptic Christians.

After the worst sectarian violence seen since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf warned in a televised address that the riots that left more than 200 wounded were damaging the country's already precarious transition to civilian rule.

Thousands of people packed into Cairo's main Coptic cathedral Monday to mourn those killed in Sunday's clashes between Christian protesters and military police.

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The clashes exploded over a wide section of downtown Cairo and drew in Christians, Muslims and security forces. The violence began when about 1,000 Christian protesters convened a sit-in outside the state television building.

The demonstrations were held in order to protest the recent attacks by Muslims on St. George Coptic Orthodox church, which is currently under construction, some 621 miles to the south of Cairo.

The spiritual leader of the Coptic Christian minority, Pope Shenouda III, presided over funerals and called for three days of mourning as well as praying and fasting on Tuesday for Christians killed in the clashes.

The Associated Press reported that Egypt's Coptic church has condemned Egyptian authorities Monday for allowing violent attacks against Christians with impunity, which resulted in the deaths of at least 26.

BBC reported that officials said Egypt's Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who also served as deputy Prime Minister, has resigned over the government's handling of a Christian Coptic protest on Sunday. El-Beblawi was appointed by the ruling military council after popular protests earlier this year.

The White House issued a statement through press secretary Jay Carney Monday, expressing the president's deep concern over the devolving situation in Egypt that has resulted in the tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces. The president also spoke of the need to protect human rights:

"As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom."

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