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France

Church bells ring for Middle East Christians

AFP

Dozens of French churches rang their bells at noon Saturday, the day of the Assumption, in a tribute to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

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Abroad, dioceses in at least 16 countries joined the movement organised by Archbishop Philippe Barbarin in Lyon.

"Let the bells of our churches ring out … for the Eastern Christians in a beautiful message of solidarity and hope,” former prime minister François Fillon said.

Chredo, an organisation that lobbies France to help Eastern Christians, welcomed the initiative and said the ringing of bells at Notre Dame in Paris was "strongly symbolic”.

The operation, organised on the day that commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into heaven, comes after the French government said it would be hosting a conference of 60 foreign ministers in Paris on 8 September to discuss the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq.

At least 300,000 Christians have fled Syria since the outbreak of war in 2011, and there are only about 400,000 Christians in Iraq, compared with 1.4 million in 1987.

The situation has worsened over the past year with the emergence of the Islamic State armed group and the rise of jihadist fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. Islamic State militants have especially targeted religious minorities, killing hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian Yazidis and Christians.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has been rallying support for persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq, calling for action from the UN Security Council in April.

"On this day when the church bells ring out of France, our commitment must not falter," said former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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