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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Pope calls for end to Iran crisis
Pope Benedict XVI
The Pope marks Easter Sunday on his 79th birthday
Pope Benedict XVI has called for a negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear crisis, in his traditional Easter message in St Peter's Square in Rome.

"May an honourable solution be found for all parties, through honest and serious negotiations," he said.

He also affirmed Israel's "just right to exist in peace" while calling on the international community to help the Palestinians move towards statehood.

It is Pope Benedict XVI's first Easter as pontiff.

His Easter message - "Urbi et Orbi" - was broadcast live on television to more than 50 countries, while about 100,000 people gathered in the square.

'Peaceful co-existence'

Speaking on Iraq, the Pope called for peace to "finally prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims".

Way of Cross procession at the Coliseum in Rome

He also prayed that those "caught up in the conflict in the Holy Land may find peace, and I invite all to patient and persevering dialogue, so as to remove both ancient and new obstacles".

In an apparent allusion to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent threats against Israel, Pope Benedict defended Israel's right to exist.

But he said it was also important for the Palestinian people to have a "state that is truly their own".

The pontiff also prayed that leaders and international organisations would strengthen their will to "achieve peaceful co-existence among different races, cultures and religions".

Addressing the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, the Pope prayed for the spirit of Christ to bring relief to people who were "living in a dramatic humanitarian situation that is no longer sustainable".

Better living conditions were also needed for millions of people in Latin America, he said.

Cheers went up among the crowd when the Pope prayed for "harmony" in Italy, an allusion to disputes over the outcome of the recent general election.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has refused to concede defeat to opposition leader Romano Prodi, who was declared the provisional winner on Tuesday.

The pope prayed Italian leaders would be strengthened in a "keen desire to reach the objectives of harmony and authentic development, for the good of all".


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the Pope's first Easter message to the crowds



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