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Pope urges diplomacy, not arms in Libya

VATICAN CITY, Apr 24 – Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged "diplomacy and dialogue" instead of arms in Libya and "solidarity" with refugees from unrest across the north African and Middle Eastern region.

"In the current conflict in Libya, may diplomacy and dialogue take the place of arms," the pope said in his traditional Easter message.

Addressing tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in a sun-drenched St Peter\’s Square and millions watching on television worldwide, the pope added: "In the countries of northern Africa and the Middle East, may all citizens, especially young people, work to promote the common good."

The pontiff urged people to "open their hearts (to) those fleeing conflict and to refugees from various African countries … so that the pressing needs of so many brothers and sisters will be met with a concerted response in a spirit of solidarity."

The leader of the world\’s 1.1 billion Catholics added in the message known as "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World): "That the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence" in the Middle East.

Massive Libyan protests in February -inspired by the revolts that toppled long-time autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia – escalated into war when Muammar Gaddafi\’s troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several eastern towns.

The battle lines have been more or less static in recent weeks, however, as NATO air strikes have helped block Gaddafi eastward advance but failed to give the poorly organised and outgunned rebels a decisive victory.

Meanwhile fledgling democracies in Egypt and Tunisia are having teething problems, while Yemen appeared poised for a peaceful transfer of power but Syria was in the throes of a deadly crackdown on massive demonstrations.

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Hundreds of thousands of people have fled unrest in north Africa, going to neighbouring countries or braving Mediterranean waters, often in rickety fishing boats, to reach European shores.

Many are immigrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa joining a steady flow of economic migrants seeking a better life.

The UN refugee agency has said that African nationals have repeatedly been "physically abused or even killed" by Libyans angry over strongman Moamer Gaddafi\’s reported use of sub-Saharan mercenaries to quash protests.

Europe\’s open borders are facing a major test as the flood of migrants strains neighbourly relations.

The tensions coincide with the rise of far-right populist parties that have put pressure on mainstream governments in Europe.

The pope, who traditionally uses his Easter message to comment on the world\’s trouble spots, also spoke of the aftermath of political unrest in the Ivory Coast and earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.

"May peaceful coexistence be restored among the peoples of Ivory Coast, where there is an urgent need to tread the path of reconciliation and pardon, in order to heal the deep wounds caused by the recent violence," said the head of the world\’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

"May Japan find consolation and hope as it faces the dramatic consequences of the recent earthquake, along with other countries that in recent months have been tested by natural disasters which have sown pain and anguish," he said.

As tradition dictates, the pontiff wrapped up the appearance by offering his Easter blessing in no fewer than 65 languages, from Albanian to Swahili and including Latin and even Esperanto.

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