EU assures it backs religious freedom in Mideast

PARIS - European Union leaders assured senior religious figures on Monday they would defend the freedom of belief in the Middle East as part of their support for the spread of democracy in the Arab world.
European Commission President Jose Barroso told 20 Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders at an annual consultation in Brussels that the EU aimed to promote democracy and human rights.
Several of the Christian representatives present expressed concern about religious freedom in the mostly Muslim Arab world, which has seen more freedom of speech in recent months but also more violent attacks on Christian minorities in some countries.
Barroso said the changes in the Arab world were "of historic proportions" and compared the challenge of anchoring democracy there to the task the EU found in post-communist Europe.