Page 1, 28th February 2003

28th February 2003
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Page 1, 28th February 2003 — Tony Blair brushes aside Pope's plea to avert war
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Tony Blair brushes aside Pope's plea to avert war

BY TRACY-JO SMITH

THE PRIME Minister has ignored a passionate personal plea by John Paul II to avert war against Iraq.

The Pope issued his appeal during a landmark private meeting with Tony Blair on Saturday. Vatican sources said the Pontiff used the 15-minute audience to encourage the Prime Minister to find a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis and "spare the world new divisions".

But minutes after the meeting concluded, Downing Street issued a communique stating pointedly that the choice of peace lay not with the Allies, but with Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "We acknowledge the Pope's concern and we share the desire to avoid war, but ultimately the decision will be a decision for Saddam."

A Vatican statement after the private audience said all parties in the Iraqi crisis must collaborate with the United Nations. Special consideration was given to the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people, the Vatican said.

On Sunday, hours after he reportedly celebrated Mass for the Blairs in his private chapel, John Paul appealed to world leaders to step back from the brink of war.

He said: "For months the international community has been living in great apprehension, because of the danger of a war that might disturb the whole of the Middle East region and exacerbate the tensions that, unfortunately, are already present at the beginning of the millennium.

It is a duty for believers, regardless of the religion to which they belong, to proclaim that we will never be able to be happy if we are against one another; the future of humanity will never be able to be assured by terrorism and the logic of war."

The Pope added that Christians were called to be "guardians of peace" in the places where they live and work.

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