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Muslim seminary ends talks with Vatican over pope's comments

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The most prestigious religious university in the Sunni Muslim world has suspended dialogue with the Vatican to protest statements by Pope Benedict XVI denouncing violence against Christians in Egypt.

The move, on Thursday (Jan. 20), came only nine days after Egypt recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for the same reason.

Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, and members of the university's Islamic Research Center made the decision at an "emergency meeting" on Thursday, according to a statement released by the center.

"Pope Benedict's repeated criticism of Islam and his unjustified claim that Copts are persecuted in Egypt and the Middle East were behind the suspension decision," said the statement, as translated on the Website of the Dubai-based Gulf News.

On Jan. 2, Benedict denounced the "vile and murderous" New Year's Day killing of at least 21 people by a car bomb outside a Christian Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt.

Al-Azhar's El-Tayeb had immediately criticized the pope's statement as "unacceptable interference in Egypt's affairs."

"I disagree with the pope's view," El-Tayeb said at the time, "and I as