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Egyptian president to meet Pope Francis Monday

By AFP

Vatican City (AFP) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, religious news agency I.Media said, citing diplomatic sources.

The meeting will be the first visit to the Vatican by an Egyptian leader in eight years and comes six months after Sisi's rise to power.

Sisi is expected for afternoon talks with the pope, along with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Choukri and three other ministers, I.Media said on Friday.

He will then meet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome at 1800 GMT, Renzi's office said.

Sisi, who led the coup last year that ousted elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, hopes to strengthen Egypt's ties with the Holy See, the diplomatic sources were quoted as saying.

The talks are likely to address the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Sunni Islam's main theological centre, the famed Al-Azhar University which fell out with the Vatican in 2011.

Al-Azhar broke off relations after Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI said not enough was being done to prevent the persecution of Christians in remarks perceived by some to be offensive to Islam.

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, make up some 10 percent of Egypt's 86 million population.

Sectarian violence during Morsi's government saw some of the community emigrate after a series of attacks on churches.