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Sunday, April 4, 1999 Published at 22:30 GMT 23:30 UK

World: Europe

'Pray for peace'

John Paul II blesses crowds during his appeal for peace

On the most important day in the Christian year, church leaders addressed the Kosovo crisis in their Easter Day messages.

They urged people to pray for peace and to support the aid appeals.

In Rome, Pope John Paul II criticised the Nato bombing and called on the Yugoslav government to create a humanitarian corridor to speed up relief supplies for the refugees.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, defended the air strikes and said equivalent efforts should be made to help those fleeing Kosovo.

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The Pope told the 30,000 faithful gathered in the sunshine at St Peter's Square in Rome that he wanted to dedicate the Mass "to peace in the Balkans, to respect for the rights of man in the martyred land of Kosovo, and to the flood of refugees forced to abandon their homes and flee to neighbouring countries".

He had already voiced his concern about the conflict in the Balkans on Good Friday, when he described the killing in Kosovo as an insult to Jesus Christ.

At the start of Mass, a participant on the altar read a special prayer. "We pray so that in the Balkans, with good will from both sides, the weapons will fall silent and negotiations are re-started aimed at a true and lasting peace."

Humanitarian corridor

During his Easter message, following late-morning Mass in St Peter's Square, the Pope expressed his dismay at the situation in Kosovo.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome: The Pope spoke powerfully and emotionally of the human tragedy
"How can we speak of peace ... when the heavens are rent by the din of war, when the whistle of shells is heard around people's homes and the ravaging fire of bombs consumes towns and villages?"

He urged the Yugoslav authorities to help the refugees: "On this holy day I feel duty-bound to make a heartfelt appeal to the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to allow a humanitarian corridor to be opened in order for help to be brought to the mass of people gathered at the border of Kosovo," he said.

The Pope sent his Foreign Minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, to Belgrade on Thursday to urge all sides in the conflict to observe a truce from the Western Christian Easter on 4 April until the Eastern Orthodox Easter on 11 April.

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