Cairo: Making a public statement for the first time on the deadly attack on Coptic Christians, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said that sectarian strife is threatening the country`s unity.
Mubarak`s comments have come at a time when Egyptian Copts living in the US and the UK are planning to carry out a protest march outside the White House and the British Parliament respectively on the issue.
"The criminal act in Nagaa Hammadi has bled the hearts of Egyptians," Mubarak was quoted as saying by the official news agency MENA.
The President was referring in his speech to an attack by gunmen on January 6, the eve of the Coptic Orthodox Christmas, in the southern town of Nagaa Hamadi in which six Copts and a Muslim policeman were killed. Three Muslim men have been charged for the shooting.
Mubarak, however, alluded in his comments to sectarian tensions in the country, where Copts make up about 10 percent of the nation`s Muslim-majority population of 80 million.
"I hasten to affirm that the reasonable people of this nation, and its religious leaders and thinkers bear the greater responsibility to contain discord and ignorance and blind fanaticism and to confront the despicable sectarian strife that threatens the unity of our society," he said.
Mubarak stressed the need to "establish the values of citizenship in letter and spirit and not to discriminate between Muslims and Christians".
He also called for the "rational, preachers, thinkers and mediamen to shoulder their responsibility in hampering sedition, ignorance and blind fanaticism and to deter hateful sectarian motives that threaten the unity of our society, the cohesion of its sons and tarnish the image of Egypt".
Meanwhile, Bishop Murqus Aziz, the priest of Virgin Mary`s Hanging Church in old Cairo, will lead a rally held by the Egyptian Copts in front of the White House on January 28.
The rally aims to persuade the US government to exert pressure on Egypt under the pretext of Copts` persecution in Egypt in light of the events.
In London, expatriate Egyptian Copts are getting ready to protest in front of the parliament on January 30.
Under the Egyptian Constitution, Copts are considered equal to Muslims but they need presidential permission to build churches and clearance from a governor to renovate them.
The community has two ministers in the government besides several members of Parliament.