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Pope meets Egyptian president at start of symbolic two-day visit

Pope Francis waves from the window of his car as he leaves Cairo's airport. Picture by Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press
Nicole Winfield and Brian Rohan, Press Association

The Pope has arrived in Egypt for a historic two-day visit aimed at presenting a united Christian-Muslim front to reject violence committed in God's name.

The Catholic Church leader is holding a series of symbolic meetings in Cairo with Egypt's religious and political leaders.

He is also to participate in an international peace conference organised by Al-Azhar, the world's primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning.

Francis will also show solidarity and take a message of peace to a country that has for years endured an increasingly emboldened insurgency led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.

The pontiff's visit will also lift the spirits of Egypt's large Christian community after three suicide bombings since December - including deadly twin Palm Sunday church attacks - killed at least 75 people. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Francis arrived at Cairo airport to a red carpet welcome, and a girl in a white dress and a boy in a black tuxedo presented him with bouquets of flowers.

He was taken to the presidential palace, the opulent Ittihadya, where he met President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Both leaders stood to attention as a military band played the national anthems of the Vatican and Egypt.

After talks with Mr el-Sissi, Francis is heading to Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam teachings. There, he will meet grand imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb and participate in an international peace conference.

He will also head to the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which accounts for about 10% of Egypt's 92 million people, to meet the Christian patriarch, Tawadros II.

Francis and Tawadros will preside over an ecumenical prayer service in St Peter's church, the Coptic cathedral that was the site of a December suicide bombing claimed by IS militants that killed 30 people.

Together they will pray for the victims of the attacks.

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