Egypt's chief sheikh dies aged 79

Cairo (Reuter) - The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, head of Egypt's highest religious authority and an influential voice of conservative Islam, died yesterday aged 79.

Sheikh Gadd el-Haqq Ali Gadd el-Haqq supported female circumcision and recently urged tough punishment for Muslims breaking fasting laws in the holy month of Ramadan.

Thousands of mourners joined government ministers, Islamic and Coptic Christian leaders for his funeral at the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar mosque. Hundreds of police, some in full riot gear, watched as chanting crowds followed the coffin.

Appointed Sheikh of Al-Azhar by the Egyptian government in 1982, he has spoken out strongly against militants waging a campaign of violence against President Mubarak's government. But he is also said to have issued a fatwa urging the government to execute opponents of female circumcision.

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